Trayvon Martin verdict evidences persistent racism
I could virtually feel the terror and immense pain caused by killer George Zimmerman’s gun blast into the heart of unarmed Trayvon Martin, 17, on Feb. 26, 2012, as I talked recently about the disturbing jury verdict with an old high school buddy, Jerry, at my Melrose Park home.
As the two of us sat rapt, we watched CNN’s Anderson Cooper interview the black teen’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin.
“It came as a complete shock for me,” said Trayvon’s mom about the July 13 verdict, adding, “I thought for sure that the jury looked at Trayvon as an average teenager that was minding his own business, that wasn’t committing any crime.”
In the face of such unwarranted aggression, to me, Trayvon was exceptionally brave while trying to defend himself — despite the great apprehension he had to feel.
In fact, Jerry and I were just about Trayvon’s age when we first met at Penn Center Academy in downtown Philly 43 years ago as we walked out of its front doors together for lunch at a nearby “greasy spoon.” Our parents, during the early 1970s, sent us to the private school near Broad and Arch streets to optimize our education and escape the inner-city gangs.
Tragically, Jerry’s enrollment was also spurred by an extremely vicious racial attack — basically a lynching — in 1970 when he was just 15, a matter I will get back to.
So, to us, as black males, that shocking decision by primarily six white jurors was like blasting yet another bullet into Trayvon’s hemorrhaging, innocent heart. And the commentaries of those claiming that Zimmerman’s slaughter of a black kid carrying home candy and a soft drink was justified is like squeezing the trigger over and over again.
Sadly, even a good-intentioned prosecutor trying to convict Zimmerman declared that Zimmerman’s actions were not about race! At best, minimizing or denying the racial angle in court, regardless of restrictions by the judge, was fatalistic; that gave the jury the green light to render a “not guilty” verdict. What an unfortunate, but predictable, strategy.
Predictable? That’s simply because the prosecutor’s office in Florida, like many in America, are staffed by people who often bring cases against young, African-American males. Such cases are too often tried with the belief that black males should not be given the benefit of the doubt and that justice is colorblind. The only thing that matters, some believe, are the often-biased legal parameters. Yet, as in the Zimmerman case, even if the victim is a black male, it can be an uphill battle to get justice.
Historically, that’s especially true if a jury consists of people who are culturally or racially insensitive. A fair system of truly pulling together multicultural juries of one’s peers must be developed.
Unfortunately, some defense lawyers for young African Americans want to compromise and make plea deals too often with prosecutors.
One case involved a very close family member, a young African-American male, being accused of an extremely serious white-collar crime after his driver’s license was stolen by a bank teller. Even that young man’s defense attorney prematurely advised him to consider pleading guilty in order to avoid jail time.
And although the case never made it to court, that young man realized that if it had, his chances of winning were not good since his own attorney seemed ready to give up the fight for justice.
One recent case that did make it to court in Florida involved a young, black mother of three shooting a warning shot after her es- tranged husband threatened her with death. There had even been a restraining order to protect her from the dude. Yet, even though the woman tried to utilize Florida’s infamous “stand-your-ground” law that essentially liberated Zimmerman of mixed Latino and Caucasian heritages, the young, black mother received a jail sentence of 20 years! The prosecutors reportedly came from the same office of those who unsuccessfully prosecuted George Zimmerman, a man that I hope will now be charged civilly for violating Trayvon’s civil rights.
Harkening back to the days of Jim Crow and vigilante lynching of blacks, many states are passing laws today that increasingly allow for the indiscriminate shooting of blacks and stiffer prison terms for them that’s causing the proliferation of new prisons as urban schools are being shut down. There has even been some talk of treasonous secession by some folks in various states. Much of this stuff seems to be a backlash against the election of the nation’s first African-American president, Barack Obama, and his necessary policies to try and empower the less fortunate while threatening to reduce available guns on inner-city streets and elsewhere.
However, as President Obama, a black male, pointed out during his recent televised talk about race and the Trayvon Martin case July 19, something must be done to minimize the black-on-black crime, as well as persistent elements of racism that I believe certainly impacted just about every aspect of the case against George Zimmerman. Indeed, Florida should be boycotted, following the lead of entertainer Stevie Wonder, until pro-vigilante laws are changed or wiped out.
The president (though not using it as an excuse for black males to commit violence) knows the historic and contemporary lack of equal employment, educational and other opportunities are largely responsible for too many black males resorting to desperate measures; he also knows that most black males are decent world citizens.
Jerry and I felt it was so gratifying for Obama to finally speak out about the mind-boggling racism (often prompted by fantastically false mass-media junk) that black males face virtually on a daily basis, from people locking car doors as we approach, to elevator passengers prematurely exiting when we want to ride too and simply get to our own hotel rooms.
And sometimes we black males get pulled into racist situations that are deadly and can cause great bodily harm, as indicative of Trayvon’s death and Jerry being jumped by a gang of whites in southwest Philadelphia as he walked from a party one evening in 1970.
After being beaten unmercifully, including worked over with a lead pipe, Jerry spent weeks in a coma, suffering from a fractured skull and other injuries. Local newspapers covered the incident. His parents were devastated with his father, Quince, suffering a heart attack. Yet, Jerry defied medical history and recovered, but ultimately lost the vision in an eye. The perpetrators of the crime, Jerry says, received very light sentences and probation, something that still angers him, despite his respect for people of all races.
And that’s why we can still feel the pain of George Zimmerman’s bullet and that Florida jury’s terrible verdict concerning Trayvon Martin, whose given name, by the way, means “brave one.” After all, in many ways, that’s what this case is all about.
Don ‘Ogbewii’ Scott, a Melrose Park resident, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.