Friday, July 19, 2013

You think we live in a post-racist society? Think again.

I've been hearing and reading things about George Zimmerman's murder trial that are, quite frankly, still pissing me off.  ESPECIALLY the verdict.

Here's the case as I understand it.  Last year, Trayvon Martin, a seventeen-year-old kid, was walking through the gated community where his father lived.  He'd just been to the corner store to buy iced tea and some Skittles.  He was wearing a hoodie, and because it was raining out, the hood was up, and he was talking with his girlfriend on his cell phone.

And then George Zimmerman, who was driving through the neighbourhood, saw him walking.  He called the police, claiming that the kid was obviously up to no good and was probably on drugs.  He also said that Martin seemed to be looking at all of the houses.  (Oh, the shock!  Oh, the horror!  A kid who's taking a walk in a neighbourhood where he's just recently arrived to visit his dad is looking at the houses!)  Zimmerman left his vehicle, pursued Martin, confronted him, and shot him to death.  Later, he used the excuse that he thought that Martin was armed and dangerous and claimed that Martin had threatened and attacked him.

Funny.  Just because the kid was black, he was a threat to people's safety simply by taking a walk in the rain.  And the threat he posed was so dire that it warranted a pursuit (which the police dispatcher told Zimmerman not to engage in) and, ultimately, a physical confrontation that ended in Martin being shot to death.  Zimmerman, of course, claimed that he shot this kid in self-defence.

I don't buy it.  From what I've read—and I've been keeping an eye on this case since Zimmerman killed Martin last year—the most dangerous thing about the kid was the sugar content of the junk food he'd bought.

And yet, Zimmerman's lawyers were given permission to pry into Martin's school records and social media accounts, like anything that he'd said or done in the past could be used to justify Zimmerman's attack on him.  At times, it looked like Trayvon Martin himself was being put on trial, not the man who killed him.  And the result was all too predictable: Zimmerman was acquitted.

I was, needless to say, heartbroken.  But I wasn't surprised or shocked, just sad and angry.

I hate that black people's lives are evidently considered to be worth less than white people's.  I hate that Marissa Alexander is serving 20 years in prison for firing a single warning shot when her life was actually in danger (anyone who thinks that spousal abuse isn't life-threatening is not only tragically wrong, but also potentially a horrible human being), but George Zimmerman walked out of that courtroom a free man after having caused a confrontation that didn't need to happen and killing the kid who he profiled, stalked, and fought.  And I hate that there are so many more cases that are similar to the killing of Trayvon Martin that we just don't hear about because the same system that creates and maintains white privilege also makes it so easy to ignore—or never even learn about—black people (especially unarmed black people) who have been killed, often as a direct result of racism.  In far too many cases, their killers walked free, or were never even charged in the first place.

And there are a lot of them.

This shouldn't be allowed to continue.  Trayvon Martin may be one of the more famous victims, but he was hardly the first, or the last, black person of any age to whom this sort of thing has happened.  But I think that in many ways, what happened after his death is a tragically excellent example of the harm that systemic racism does.  Consider: his killer wasn't even arrested until after an international outcry arose, his killer was released on parole soon afterwards anyway and was able to raise huge amounts of money for his legal defence (and ended up using some of it for living expenses), and despite the fact that pretty much everything that Zimmerman did that night was wrong, and despite the fact that the horrific wrongness of his actions resulted in a seventeen-year-old boy's death, the jury chose to free him.

That's the power of systemic racism.  A boy gets murdered while walking down the street.  There are witnesses.  His killer is told by the police dispatcher to whom he's talking to not follow the kid, but the man with the gun, the man who has a history of violent and abusive behaviour, disregards this.  And still the mostly-white jury decides that the killer didn't do anything wrong.  He's even got his gun back.

Tell me that's not fucked up—and if you believe it, prove it to me.  Come on.  I dare you.

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