Trayvon- Uncovering Racism Beyond the Verdict.
July 17, 2013
I usually avoid categorizing myself as a progressive because the term has become a euphemism for being a liberal. People seem sometimes hesitant to call themselves liberals. There is nothing wrong with being a liberal unless the commitment to maintaining that label adulterates one’s otherwise objective position, perspective or opinion on a given topic. It seems at times that liberals place pressure on themselves to see the world in black and white but as we know the world is typically more nuanced and is usually painted in shades of gray.
Most recently that can be seen with Trayvon. The death of that young man was tragic, unnecessary and unjust but in the final analysis the jury determined that it was not illegal. The fact that something can be as vile as Trayvon’s death and still not be illegal is the great conundrum that liberals must reconcile.
It is far easier to homogenize or conflate the two issues by simply saying that the not guilty verdict confirms that racial inequality still exists in America. Surely no one would argue that we need a verdict of any kind for that confirmation. Racism is alive and well throughout the world but that does not mean it was the root cause of the jury’s verdict.
One could rightly argue that the verdict was consistent with the charges brought, the relevant law, the physical evidence and the judge’s instructions precisely because of underlying and even subliminal racial prejudices. The jury might have thought Zimmerman acted inappropriately and maybe thought he should be punished but the test for them was to hold their noses, avoid peripheral issues and decide the verdict based on facts presented and within the specific constraints of the law.
The real evidence of racism is not the Zimmerman verdict. The real evidence demonstrates itself day after day in countless trials beyond the bright lights of the media. In those trials, defendants with more melanin in their skin are found guilty based on similar evidence and similar circumstances. In those cases the jurors believe in their hearts, despite the evidence, that the defendant is guilty. Their ability to come to a just verdict is constrained by the subtle or expressed prejudices that allow them to “go with their gut” and convict a person based on peripheral.
Maybe it’s splitting hairs but I see a difference. It’s not that Zimmerman was found not guilty -it’s the fact that the others are found guilty.
This is a hard case for liberals who on the one hand want to be aligned with any cause that supports advancement of the oppressed but at the same time recognize at some intellectual level that the case at hand should not be generalized to support that struggle.
Zimmerman stalked, confronted and killed an unarmed boy that had done absolutely nothing wrong but at the same time he was correctly found not guilty on the charges brought. Both statements are correct. It’s cognitive dissonance at its best, or worst. It’s gray and the sooner people stop seeing everything as black and white then the real work can begin on understanding what needs to change to make sure there won’t be more Trayvons. It’s not the injustice of this case it’s the injustice that plays out daily beyond the media lens. The focus should be on the latter.