Trayvon Martin: The Latest Victim

It is impossible to get away from the a discussion of race when discussing Trayvon Martin's death and the circumstances surrounding him being shot by George Zimmerman.

I have been cautious to respond hastily to the 'not guilty' verdict recently awarded to Zimmerman. This is a very polarizing case and I wanted to think deeply before actually deciding what I want to say in this moment.

There seems to be a push from some to say, "Race has nothing to do with it." and get away from the fact that Trayvon was a young, black male. You can do that if you want, I suppose. I just don't think you can ignore Trayvon's race if you really want to understand the dynamics of what happened, as is happening here.

On the other side, I have seen bloggers and even journalists leave out the fact that Trayvon attacked Zimmerman. I don't like that deliberate deletion of fact. I don't like it, not because it is an essential fact in justifying why Zimmerman pulled the trigger, far from it. I don't like it because I think it also is an essential piece to understanding the dynamics of this particular situation. Trayvon attacked. Trayvon lashed out. It's important.

Feel free to correct me on the facts if I have misinterpreted them somehow. As I understand it, Trayvon was walking home from the store. He was wearing a hoodie and Zimmerman, the neighbourhood watch coordinator for the gated community in which Trayvon was staying, was driving his car and saw Trayvon. He called the police and described Trayvon as a "real suspicious guy" who "looks like he is up to no good" and "is on drugs or something." He also was recorded as saying, " these assholes, they always get away."

We need to stop at this point just to realize that Zimmerman was wrong; plain-old, flat-out wrong. Trayvon was going home, not looking to break in to residences and not "on drugs or something." Zimmerman profiled Trayvon as "suspicious" and an "asshole" immediately. While Zimmerman does not profile Trayvon racially in his call to the police, it doesn't matter. Here is where the experience of being a black male in America comes into play. The experience of being treated with distain and labelled "suspicious" or "asshole" is all too common. Zimmerman may not mention race, but a young, black male in a hoodie drew to mind for Zimmerman something that was to be feared and was suspect. The only reason some people try to justify this as not being racist is because this racism is the norm in North America.

Zimmerman continued to follow Trayvon in his vehicle for enough time that any of us in the position of Trayvon would become fearful. Two minutes into his call to the police Zimmerman tells the dispatcher that "he's running." Two minutes? Plus the time that it took to assess Trayvon as a threat and call the police. I don't know about you but if a vehicle was slowly following me for over two minutes without the driver ever identifying himself as Neighbourhood Watch, I would certainly be fearful. Especially as a 17 year old, and I can only imagine the added fear of a 17 year old black male with a history of being profiled and treated with distain. Trayvon was afraid and felt threatened. That is a reasonable response to this scenario.

Here is where Zimmerman makes his biggest mistake, a mistake that cost Trayvon his life. Zimmerman leaves his vehicle and follows Trayvon. The dispatcher asks Zimmerman if he is following and Zimmerman affirms that he is to which the dispatcher says, "We don't need you to do that." and Zimmerman responds, "Okay." Before ending the call Zimmerman asks the police to call him when they arrive.

Zimmerman continued to pursue. He lost sight of Trayvon. Trayvon was able to conceal himself somehow and when Zimmerman came near, he attacked him. Less than 65 metres away from the backdoor of the townhouse Martin was staying at, Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin.

What would you have done if you were Trayvon Martin? You have been followed by a slow moving car for over 2 minutes. You finally run and the man in the car pursues you on foot. You are just going home. Why am I being followed? Why is this man running after me?

Only one person in this situation had cause to feel threatened and in danger. Zimmerman created the circumstances by which a young man attacked him and after creating those circumstances he shot him and killed him. Was that his intent, I don't think so. But intent or not Zimmerman is responsible for his death.

Trayvon attacked.

I am not a proponent of the use of violence. But there are times when I can understand why someone uses violence. Trayvon was able to elude Zimmerman and then Zimmerman was close. Close enough to strike out at. Trayvon was scared, Trayvon felt threatened and Trayvon attacked. He had tried "flight' already and now it was time to "fight".

Time to fight.

The hostility and hatred experienced by black Americans and Canadians has led to times to fight more than once. Times to stand up and say "No! I will not be a victim!" That is why Trayvon's name can rightly be used alongside historical freedom fighters in the Civil Rights Movement. Trayvon becomes the latest symbol of the struggle for equality and humanity in a culture that continues to stereotype and demonize. Trayvon is just the latest victim.

Zimmerman profiled Trayvon and then followed him on foot. Why was Trayvon such a threat to his community? The fact is he wasn't a threat, only in Zimmerman's flawed assessment, flawed by the very stereotypes and demonization perpetuated by his own society.

When Trayvon stood up to the misuse and abuse of power he lashed out against it and was killed for his bold and courageous action.

Then, to make everything worse and more heated. An all-woman, mainly-white jury somehow decided that Zimmerman was not responsible for the death of young Trayvon. Ridiculous. It might be a case of a poor prosecution. However when Juror B37 is interviewed by Anderson Cooper and says things like "these people" and "their way of life" when referring to Trayvon and Rachel Jeantel, a friend of Trayvon's and a black young woman, discussion of race again become unavoidable. Juror B37 also said she would be happy to have Zimmerman in her Neighbourhood Watch. Is there any wonder why people are hurting about this verdict? Is it any wonder why there is a question about whether or not we can even hope for justice for those outside of the dominant white affluent culture?

Juror B37 said to Anderson Cooper about Zimmerman "I think he just didn't know when to stop. He was frustrated and things just got out of hand." Blogger Laura Beck weighs in on this quote by saying, "I'm no legal eagle, but isn't that manslaughter?" Juror 37 is basically saying, without meaning to, "Yeah, he's guilty of manslaughter, but I get why he did it so..."

 It's important to remember that Trayvon attacked. Important to know that Trayvon took a stand. He chose to not be a victim, but to confront the one who was causing fear. Zimmerman had created the conflict, had put together the ingredients of confrontation. Trayvon stood up to this abuse and misuse of power (and remember Zimmerman had not identified himself so at this point his only real power from Trayvon's point of view is that of an older male who is following and chasing him with unknown intent). And the jury decided that being a black male and standing up against the abuse and misuse of power is a crime worthy of death.

Have we gotten anywhere yet? There is a Black male in the Whitehouse and yet Black male youth can be shot and killed in our communities for standing up against the abuse of power. This situation and verdict says nothing short of, "You must accept your oppression!" "You may not stand up!" "You may not fight back!"

So now what?

The journey is not over for Zimmerman. Civil suits and more are likely to come. There will be consequences for his actions, even if Florida has decided that jail won't be one of them.

I worry about the fallout. Like with Rodney King, an action of violence from both sides can lead to a violent reaction by those who are left believing (and for good reason), "There is no justice for me here!"

Like I said, I can understand why someone, like Trayvon, chooses violence, but I do not believe that violence will get us to "The Promised Land" as proponent of non-violence Martin Luther King Jr. used to call it. King also understood why others of his Black brothers and sisters chose violence, he just implored with them that "hate could not drive out hate" because only Love could do that.

Black Americans have an amazing and truly inspiring legacy of choosing LOVE when confronted with fear and hatred. I only hope that once again that Love can rise up in the face of the racism, fear and broken system that have led to the death of Trayvon and the non-guilty verdict for Zimmerman.

Choosing Love now is the hardest choice to make. This is true especially for those who know what it's like to be in Trayvon's place, to be suspect and an asshole just because someone doesn't like the way you look. The pain of constant alienation and oppression can stir up the desire for vengeance and retribution. But a violent system overthrown by violence will only lead to another violent system. Weapons of violence will only ever reap the fruits of violence.

It will take, again, a critical mass of Americans and Canadians to stand together and say, "This was wrong. Things are not the way they can be. Something better is possible. We are going to an example of that something better and we will DEMAND, with non-violent action, great love, and much sacrifice, that the entire system follows our lead."

... Something better is possible. It will take a whole lot of rebels for us to get on the journey towards it.

 
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