Anyone familiar with the meaning of the term “universal” and the debate that has followed the trail and acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, can only be surprised by the “profound distaste” expressed this week by Spectator columnist Jeremy Brier. Brier has called foul in relation to how the “American Left…have reacted to a jury decision with immediate and universal cries of ‘miscarriage of justice‘”.
Perhaps by profiling one’s ideological opponents as a homogeneous group ‘out to get’ its opponents, rather than considering their individual viewpoints rationally and on their merits, one can fire off articles in a faster and more self-soothing, self-affirming manner. But assumptions based on profiling, and the logical conclusions that can follow them, are frequently flat out wrong.
In the case of George Zimmerman, the consequences of profiling and unthinking emotional reactions proved lethal for a teenage boy, Trayvon Martin, who was walking home from a candy store to his father’s neighborhood residence. Lethal but not illegal, at least not in Florida – and therein lies the real source if outrage in this case.
It is not that Zimmerman didn’t get a fair trial and was wrongly acquitted. To the contrary, by receiving a technically fair trail, Zimmerman’s acquittal was entirely unsurprising given the rules of the road in Florida. Now, consider that stinging reality, particularly from the perspective of a Floridian parent of a teenage African American boy.
The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates captured this sentiment more forcefully than most when he opined:
It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended.
…if you are simply focusing on what happened in the court-room, then you have been head-faked by history and bought into a (sic) idea of fairness which can not (sic) possibly exist… The jury’s performance may be the least disturbing aspect of this entire affair. The injustice was authored by a country which has taken as its policy, for the lionshare of its history, to erect a pariah class. The killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is not an error in programming. It is the correct result of forces we set in motion years ago and have done very little to arrest.
On a similar theme, The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson tweeted this tellingly unanswerable question: “What was Travon Martin supposed to do?”
Yet help answer this question the parents of American youths must, particularly if their kids “look suspicious” in states where citizens are not only armed but emboldened by laws like Florida’s far from unique Stand Your Ground legislation. The Guardian’s Gary Younge provides more of the context for the terrifying parenting dilemma confirmed by Zimmerman’s trail.
There is no doubt about who the aggressor was here. It appears that the only reason the two interacted at all, physically or otherwise, is that Zimmerman believed it was his civic duty to apprehend an innocent teenager who caused suspicion by his existence alone.”
Since it was Zimmerman who stalked Martin, the question remains: what ground is a young black man entitled to and on what grounds may he defend himself? What version of events is there for that night in which Martin gets away with his life?
Imagine you are the father of a black teenage boy living in the United States, particularly in states with “Stand Your Ground” laws in addition to citizen vigilantes legally authorized to carry concealed firearms. What would you advise your child to do in the event of realizing they’re being stalked, after dark, by a civilian, possibly a racist, and possibly an armed one at that?
Run away? Surely that would only heighten suspicions.
Perhaps black kids should walk in groups? “Gang!” (Does anyone really think Trayvon Martin would have looked less suspicious to Zimmerman had he been accompanied one or two black friends?)
If eventually confronted, should you advise your kid to fight (back)? Trayvon Martin stood his ground when confronted by Zimmerman and even, it seems, gave him a bit of a pasting. His stalker shot him dead – yet his killer had Florida’s law on his side. As TNC explains:
I can bait you into a fight and if I start losing I can legally kill you, provided I “believe” myself to be subject to “great bodily harm.
Children should be raised to challenge authority that abuses its power, particularly when they are direct witnesses to, or victims of, abuse. Yet Zimmerman’s ability to successfully justify killing an unarmed black youth who was suspicious, it seems, simply because he was a black youth shatters the neatness of such a romantic worldview and that hurts us all.
The only certain conclusion available to the parents of children who look suspicious to George Zimmerman is that following his acquittal the Florida authorities have returned him his gun.
This video showing a black father discussing the difficulty he faces explaining the death of Trayvon Martin to his teenage sons is bang on target per the discussion above (Hat Tip Natasha N.)
Strategic Communications Consultant, located in Washington, D.C.