Why whites, blacks dif­fer on the Zim­mer­man ver­dict

The Covington News - - OPINION -

Sixty-four per­cent of Amer­i­cans say that it’s pos­si­ble to have an hon­est dis­cus­sion about race in Amer­ica. I would like to be­lieve that, but I am skep­ti­cal.

My skep­ti­cism is rooted in a painful recog­ni­tion of the fact that white and black Amer­ica have dif­fer­ent his­to­ries and dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences with our jus­tice sys­tem.

Con­sider the sim­ple fact that, com­pared to white Amer­i­cans, black Amer­i­cans are three times as likely to know some­one in prison and twice as likely to know some­one who was mur­dered. It’s not sur­pris­ing that most black Amer­i­cans view the jus­tice sys­tem with the same level of sus­pi­cion that the tea party has for the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice.

So when a jury with no blacks de­clared Ge­orge Zim­mer­man not guilty in the mur­der of Trayvon Martin, most white Amer­i­cans agreed with the ver­dict, and most black Amer­i­cans did not.

Most white Amer­i­cans be­lieve that such a jury can fairly con­sider a case in­volv­ing the shoot- ing of a black man. Most blacks dis­agree.

Most white Amer­i­cans be­lieve Zim­mer­man was mo­ti­vated pri­mar­ily by con­cern about bur­glar­ies in the neigh­bor­hood. Most black Amer­i­cans be­lieve he was mo­ti­vated pri­mar­ily by racism.

Many con­ser­va­tive pun­dits have pointed out that the pros­e­cu­tion sim­ply couldn’t prove be­yond a rea­son­able doubt that Zim­mer­man was do­ing any­thing more than act­ing in self-de­fense. Even some on the po­lit­i­cal left, peo­ple like Slate’s Wil­liam Sale­tan, have said that when you look at the ev­i­dence and the law, the jury reached the right de­ci­sion. For­mer Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter shares that view, as well.

But for many Ameri- cans, the tech­ni­cal anal­y­sis misses the point. Zim­mer­man made a poor choice when he ig­nored the dis­patcher, got out of the car and tried to be a hero. As a re­sult, a young black man ended up dead. Where’s the jus­tice in that? Would it have been the same if the dead man were the son of a wealthy white busi­ness­man?

I can­not claim to speak for black Amer­i­cans, but what I see in the num­bers is a deeply rooted be­lief that the rules of the game in Amer­ica are rigged against black Amer­i­cans. Eighty-four per­cent of black Amer­i­cans be­lieve the jus­tice sys­tem in our coun­try is un­fair to mi­nori­ties.

Most white Amer­i­cans are ap­palled by such num­bers. This is why it is so dif­fi­cult to have an hon­est dis­cus­sion about race in Amer­ica. They just don’t get it.

What white Amer­i­cans need to un­der­stand is that there’s a rea­son most black Amer­i­cans be­lieve our jus­tice sys­tem is out to get them. The rea­son is that for most of our his­tory govern­ment in Amer­ica was an or­ga­nized con­spir­acy against black Amer­i­cans. The Con­sti­tu­tion in­cludes of­fen­sive lan­guage about black slaves.

South­ern states im­ple­mented Jim Crow laws and pro­vided in­fe­rior ed­u­ca­tional op­tions to keep blacks down — laws that sur­vived un­til the 1960s. There’s more to Amer­i­can his­tory, of course, but we can’t ig­nore those re­al­i­ties.

What black Amer­i­cans need to un­der­stand, though, is that Ge­orge Zim­mer­man and his gen­er­a­tion never lived in that world. Amer­ica has changed, but we have failed to con­front hon­estly our past.

If our na­tion is ever to be­come truly a land of lib­erty and jus­tice for all, we need to have an hon­est dis­cus­sion about race. The ev­i­dence of the past few weeks makes me doubt we are ready for that to­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.