Protesters rally in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin trial in Times Square in New York, July 14, 2013. (Reuters/Keith Bedford)
There isn’t a good reason for me to be as angry as I am over the “not guilty” verdict handed down for George Zimmerman in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. I always knew that would be the outcome. No amount of flat-out lies or inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s story, nor compassion for two grieving parents who lost their son in the most heinous and senseless of ways, was going to override the lack of respect the United States justice system has for black bodies. Disappointment is for people who have faith in the system. I knew that better than I know my own name.
And yet there I was, crying rage-filled tears as “ZIMMERMAN NOT GUILTY” appeared on television. Because no amount of cynicism can override the pain of knowing a 17-year-old boy is dead through no fault of his own, and no one will be held accountable.
Perhaps the state of Florida is at fault: the prosecutors could have put together a stronger case. Perhaps the jury is at fault: maybe they didn’t notice Zimmerman’s lies and call his version of events into question the way they could have. But in truth, the whole damn country is at fault for continuing to allow the racist ideology that renders blackness a threat to the American way of life. The auction blocks and “Colored only” signs are past, but we haven’t learned the lessons of our history; we’re merely products of it.
George Zimmerman was prosecuted, yes, but he was never really on trial. Trayvon Martin’s lifeless body was put on trial for having the audacity to exist and be black. Zimmerman started that the night he killed Trayvon, profiling the lanky teen for being “up to no good” and not belonging in his gated community—when he had no information to go on besides the fact Trayvon was walking in the rain. During the trial, defense attorneys Mark O’Mara and Don West trotted out every racist stereotype attached to black boys throughout history, suggesting that Trayvon used supernatural size, strength and speed to beat Zimmerman. To my disgust, O’Mara literally invoked the same justification for killing Trayvon as was used to justify lynchings. He called to the witness stand Olivia Bertalan, one of Zimmerman’s former neighbors, who told the story of her home being burglarized by two young African-American boys while she and her children feared for their lives. It was terrifying indeed, and it had absolutely no connection to the case at hand. But O’Mara presented the jury with the “perfect victim,” which Trayvon could never be: a white woman living in fear of black criminals. Zimmerman had offered to help her the night her home was robbed. Implicit in the defense’s closing argument: he was also protecting her the night he killed Trayvon Martin.
On MSNBC’s UP w/ Steve Kornacki, Daryl Parks, the attorney for Trayvon’s family, said he didn’t want to call O’Mara a racist. But when you traffic in those racist tropes in a court of law, it doesn’t matter if you’re labeled a racist or not. The damage is done.