Trayvon Martin’s father Tracy Martin and his mother Sabrina Fulton. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/David Shankbone)
The murder trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is nearing its end, with the defense expected to rest its case today. It’s time to prepare for what happens if Zimmerman is acquitted.
I believe strongly in his guilt, but I’ve also watched the trial closely, and between the second-degree murder charge, where the prosecution must prove ill will or malice, and Zimmerman’s crafty defense, it is entirely plausible that he’ll walk. The special prosecutor assigned to this case, Angela Corey, originally charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder denying that it was because of “public pressure,” but because of “special evidence” that supported the charge. Legal analyst Dan Abrams, writing for ABC News, said:
I certainly sympathize with the anger and frustration of the Martin family and doubt that a jury will accept the entirety of George Zimmerman’s account as credible. But based on the legal standard and evidence presented by prosecutors it is difficult to see how jurors find proof beyond a reasonable doubt that it wasn’t self defense. Prosecutors are at a distinct legal disadvantage. They have the burden to prove that Zimmerman did not “reasonably believe” that the gunshot was “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm” to himself. That is no easy feat based on the evidence presented in their case. Almost every prosecution witness was called to discredit the only eyewitness who unquestionably saw everything that occurred that night, George Zimmerman.
It’s heartbreaking to think that Zimmerman killed Trayvon and may never face punishment, but it’s possible. And for those of us deeply affected by Trayvon’s death, we have to think carefully about what comes next.
Because even a guilty verdict is only a consolation. It would send a one-time message that a black child’s life had value, but it would hardly shift the tide from the constant dehumanization. We would still be up against the same system—no only our criminal justice system but a larger cultural sytem—in which it was prudent to test Trayvon for drugs but not Zimmerman, that would ask a grieving mother if her son did anything to cause his own death, and that didn’t see fit to make an arrest for nearly a month and a half.
This requires us to wrestle with this question: What does justice for Trayvon look like?
Because if you’re like me, you don’t see prison as the answer. The prospect of Zimmerman sitting behind bars for twenty-five years doesn’t invoke a sense of justice. That just means they’ll be another person languishing in our broken prison system. Our carceral state doesn’t work, and relying on it to bring justice for any of us is a fool’s errand. We need a new outlook.
Justice needs to be more proactive. It should consist of an entire society doing everything it can to ensure that what happened to Trayvon never happens again. This includes a commitment to seeing the humanity in black men and boys, and letting go of the entrenched idea of their inherent criminality. It means divesting from the racist ideology that would have us believe black men are preternaturally violent creatures seeking to wreak havoc on America. Justice is black boys not having to grow up with that hanging over their heads. Justice is support for their potential. Real justice is this country truly believing that the killing of black boys is a tragedy.
When Trayvon’s father was on the witness stand, it was clear, more than a year later, he was still trying to process his son’s death. Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda was asking him about the 911 call where you can hear the gunshot that killed Trayvon. He started his question: “You realized that that was the shot…” and before he could finish, Tracy Martin chimed in, “That killed my son, yes.”
Justice is making sure no parent ever has to say those words again.
Read more from Mychal Denzel Smith on the George Zimmerman murder trial.