Demonstrators outside the Seminole County Courthouse react after hearing the verdict of “not guilty” in the trial of George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
A jury has found George Zimmerman not guilty of all charges in connection to death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. But while the verdict came as a surprise to some people, it makes perfect sense to others. This verdict is a crystal-clear illustration of the way white supremacy operates in America.
Throughout the trial, the media repeatedly referred to an “all-woman jury” in that Seminole County courtroom, adding that most of them were mothers. That is true—but so is that five of the six jurors were white, and that is profoundly significant for cases like this one. We also know that the lone juror of color was seen apparently wiping a tear during the prosecution’s rebuttal yesterday. But that tear didn’t ultimately convince her or the white people on that jury that Zimmerman was guilty of anything. Not guilty. Not after stalking, shooting and killing a black child, a child that the defense insultingly argued was “armed with concrete.”
In the last few days, Latinos in particular have spoken up again about Zimmerman’s race, and the “white Hispanic” label especially, largely responding to social media users and mass media pundits who employed the term. Watching Zimmerman in the defense seat, his sister in the courtroom, and his mother on the stand, one can’t deny the skin color that informs their experience. They are not white. Yet Zimmerman’s apparent ideology—one that is suspicious of black men in his neighborhood, the “assholes who always get away—” is one that adheres to white supremacy. It was replicated in the courtroom by his defense, whose team tore away at Rachel Jeantel, questioning the young woman as if she was taking a Jim Crow–era literacy test. A defense that, during closing, cited slave-owning rapist Thomas Jefferson, played an animation for the jury based on erroneous assumptions, made racially coded accusations about Trayvon Martin emerging “out of the darkness,” and had the audacity to compare the case of the killing of an unarmed black teenager to siblings arguing over which one stole a cookie.
When Zimmerman was acquitted today, it wasn’t because he’s a so-called white Hispanic. He’s not. It’s because he abides by the logic of white supremacy, and was supported by a defense team—and a swath of society—that supports the lingering idea that some black men must occasionally be killed with impunity in order to keep society-at-large safe.
Media on the left, right and center have been fanning the flames of fear-mongering, speculating that people—and black people especially—will take to the streets. That fear-mongering represents a deep white anxiety about black bodies on the streets, and echoes Zimmerman’s fears: that black bodies on the street pose a public threat. But the real violence in those speculations, regardless of whether they prove to be true, is that it silences black anxiety. The anxiety that black men feel every time they walk outside the door—and the anxiety their loved ones feel for them as well. That white anxiety serves to conceal the real public threat: that a black man is killed every twenty-eight hours by a cop or vigilante.
People will take to the streets, and with good reason. They’ll be there because they know that, yes, some people do always get away—and it tends to be those strapped with guns and the logic of white supremacy at their side.
The NAACP will seek the Department of Justice's intervention in the Zimmerman case. Read John Nichols's report.