The killing of Trayvon Martin is a classically American nightmare: a suburb somewhere, a dark night, a young black man on the streets, guns in the hands of people who imagine it will make them safer, calls to 911 that provide grim, brief, staccato evidence of a deadly, preventable encounter. And at the end of it all, a dead man, grieving parents, a police force and a city administration making mealy-mouthed responses. When we reach that stage, a sickening sense of deja vu strikes, for we have memorized the rest of the script: a little outrage that soon blows itself out, some protest marches, featuring as usual, some ‘leaders’ of the black community, bland, banal responses from the police force, and a meandering march toward ‘justice,’ which, more often than not, ends in miscarriage.
Well, that familiar script has played out as predicted and the anticipated miscarriage of ‘justice’ is here: George Zimmerman has been acquitted of second-degree murder and of manslaughter; Trayvon Martin‘s parents are left grieving and inconsolate, resigned to spending the rest of their lives mourning a young life cut short. And the rest of us reduced to raging impotently, if eloquently at times, on social media timelines and playing parlor games in which thought experiments involving a white Trayvon Martin and a black Zimmerman are devised, with the same outcome every time: Zimmerman going to the gallows or heading for a life sentence in prison.
A few weeks, months or years from now, Trayvon Martin’s name will acquire some obscurity, and blend in with Yusuf Hawkins, Amadou Diallo, and oh, take your pick: a grim roll of black men who get shot on the streets, and whose killers always, somehow, manage to walk; his portrait will join those flashed at the rallies that will soon, again, be held for some other victim of the over-hasty, over-eager policeman or home-brewed vigilante. Zimmerman will go back to his life, still armed and dangerous. If the perversity of our culture will play out in some of its most gruesome manifestations, we might see him again, perhaps on a talk show, or a book release event, justifying his unhinged reactions on that fatal night.
In the post from which I’ve quoted above, I also wrote:
[T]he final pull of the trigger, as in this case, was merely the spearpoint of a weapon that had been aimed at Trayvon Martin’s head for a very long time. Zimmerman lives in a society infected by racism; when he finally shot Trayvon, he wasn’t acting alone; he was accompanied by anything and everything that has conspired to make it the case that young black men in this country are taking substantial risks when they venture out alone into a dark street.
The ‘anything and everything’ includes legal statutes like Florida’s stand-your-ground law, but even more importantly, it includes the structural racism which made it possible for those thought experiments I allude to above to be run so easily.
That structure needs, and will take, some tearing down.