Why whites, blacks differ on the Zimmerman verdict
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.