Jul 18, 2013 - Issue 525

 BlackCommentator.com: Cover Story - Zimmerman: The Question of Self-Defense and the Hunting of Black Folks - The African World - By Bill Fletcher, Jr. - BC Editorial Board

I could not help myself. I kept listening to the pundits, both the night before and the morning of the verdict.

I need to say that I do not respect the decision of the jury any more than the jury that acquitted the killers of Emmitt Till should have had their decision respected. I realize that some lawyers need to say that they will respect the decision, but let us be clear that the decision was not only wrong but was a travesty.

The other piece that has been repeatedly argued is that this was a case of self-defense and that the jury had to let Zimmerman off. So, just to get this straight, an unarmed, 17-year-old young man is approached by an adult who is carrying a hand gun. Who should feel threatened?

We do not know what actually transpired in the moments prior to the murder of Martin but every and any Black person in the USA knows the fury that is felt when we are harassed by whites and when our guilt is presumed. Whether this happens as a result of being profiled by the police or stopped in a department store, we know and feel the humiliation. We all know the anger that rises in us, and may literally rise in our throats in the form of bile. We know the impulse to strike out, whether verbally or physically, when we are the recipient of a major or minor form of racial aggression.

Whether Trayvon Martin hit Zimmerman first or not is actually irrelevant. That is the point that the jury ignored, and the TV commentators are walking around. What is relevant is that Martin had every right to be where he was and Zimmerman actually had no right to be infringing on Martin’s space, journey and rights.

Thus, when we hear this rubbish about self-defense we have to ask ourselves some powerful and pointed questions. For instance, if a black person is being approached by an angry white person, do they have the right to shoot and kill that angry white person because we have hundreds of years of experiences with what angry white people can do to Black people? Is that the implication of “Stand Your Ground?” I would guess not.

A friend reminded me this morning about the case of Marissa Alexander from Florida who fired a warning shot to hold off her alleged abusive husband. She tried to invoke the Stand Your Ground law only to be told that it did not apply. The jury convicted her and she was subject to mandatory sentencing, receiving 20 years.

Anyone who tries to suggest that the Zimmerman jury carefully and objectively weighed the evidence and could do nothing more than convict is living in a dream. The fact that this outrageous law can be applied arbitrarily and that the fundamental question of why an armed adult was approaching an unarmed 17-year-old (after having been told by the police to stop following him) were not together the deciding factors in this case, demonstrating the depth of the injustice we have witnessed.

I received the news when I was getting ready to eat. I was prepared, intellectually, for a not-guilty verdict. I was not ready in my gut.

As a radical, I am quite aware of the injustices that regularly and historically have happened to people of color and to the poor. I am aware of how the system regularly justifies the murder of black people. Yet, I am nothing but sickened. And listening to the so-called defense attorneys gloat over their victory and place the blame for Trayvon Martin’s death on Trayvon is actually more than I can take.

This verdict is a verdict in favor of white fear. We should all be clear about that. This is a verdict that says white people have every right to fear any and every black person and, if the law permits it, to act upon such fear. I do not care whether Zimmerman is part Latino, he acted as a white man and that is certainly how he will be remembered. Zimmerman looked at Trayvon through the eyes of a white man and assumed danger when no danger existed.

I heard the attorneys asked what would have happened had the roles been reversed and one of the defense attorneys suggested that this would never have gone to trial and that this trial was manufactured by civil rights advocates. Well, I will give you a very different answer. Were an African American to shoot and kill a white youth who s/he believed was a threat, there is little question but that such a person would be found guilty of something, assuming that they were not first lynched. The right of self-defense is not a right that Black people have ever had respected by white authorities, but when it is whites, or people acting as white, who claim self-defense against Blacks, any use of force is considered acceptable because, after all, Black people are scary people.

Once again, we are reminded that there are zones that we cannot safely enter.

The Zimmerman acquittal should remind us that what we are experiencing at this moment in history is a 21st century version of the dispossession and disenfranchisement that African Americans have received, beginning in the late 19th century. It is not just the Zimmerman case. It is the attack on affirmative action along with the voter suppression efforts and the weakening of the Voting Rights Act. In the late 19th century, the Southern ruling elite was desperately afraid of Black power and the potential for the Black and white poor to unite. Today, the political Right shares similar fears. They also fear the future. They fear the change in the demographics of the USA. They wish to turn back the clock and paralyze the movements for social justice that have been percolating in this country.

The Zimmerman acquittal, and the nonsensical efforts by pundits to justify it, is only part of a larger picture of what we should truly understand as an attempt at Jim Crow 2.0

We cannot let it happen and I know that we won’t.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfricaForum, and the author of They’re Bankrupting Us” - And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He is also the co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Other Bill Fletcher, Jr. writing can be found at billfletcherjr.com. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.