Trayvon Martin ver­dict ev­i­dences per­sis­tent racism

North Penn Life - - OPINION - Don­ald Scott

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

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