Home » Blog » Jon's news & views » On Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, racism, and racial justice

On Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, racism, and racial justice

Call Us: 703-383-1100

Today, I blog about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman not because of the high profile of the Zimmerman prosecution– see my views here about commenting on high profile cases —  but because of the need to clear up that the acquittal must not be seen as an exoneration of racism, and because the Zimmerman case has been a catalyst for a huge number of people to cry out all the more for true racial justice in America.

Racism remains too rampant in American and world society. The vast majority of first-arriving-to-the-United States/colonies ancestors of African Americans were captured, sold, and transported as slaves and chattel. The subsequent abolition of slavery led to virulent violence, segregation, and oppression of African Americans, with the bitter taste of segregation being so recent that past Maryland Court of Appeals chief judge Robert Bell, who is African American, still has a trespassing conviction on the books for a 1960’s lunch counter sit-in in Baltimore.

Racism poisons society throughout the United States, and not just in the South. Slavery was not confined to the South in the United States and the colonies that preceded the nation, but remained most active in the South. Florida, where George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin is part of the South, no matter how much the tourist centers of such places as Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach try to make Florida seem nothing other than a vacationer’s and retiree’s paradise.

Racial profiling is rampant in the United States. Police do it. Too many employers do it. Too many businesses do it. Too many people do it. Barred by law on so many fronts from racially discriminating, plenty of racist people try to find ways to return to the "old days" of racial segregation, of restrictive covenants on real estate barring African Americans and Jewish people from buying their property, and of keeping "them" out of their home communities and daily lives.

Was George Zimmerman intent on keeping a certain "element" of people out of his gated community? So many times, I have heard people talk about the "element" of people that frequent neighborhoods, shopping centers and other places that these speakers do not want to frequent while the "element" is there. How often Is the "element" their code word for people of races that they do not want to associate with, unless, for some people, they are acting as servants?

I have heard people say shamelessly right to my face over the decades such racist feelings as: "I am very [racially] prejudiced;" "it’s fun to be racist against Black people;" "Why don’t you get a couple of Black guys to move your dorm room furniture for painting if you are having some back pain;" "That’s a menial task for Mexicans"; and "Go watch the n—er" (words of a former retail employer). I have lashed out in the past when hearing racist talk, but know that I can be more effective against racism by responding calmly and firmly — but without lashing — to speakers and actors of racial insensitivity.

George Zimmerman’s acquittal has sparked very deep-seated and often raw feelings of so many who have been lifelong victims of racism and other forms of discrimination, and of so many who have been pained by the rampant racism in society even if they have not often been the victims of racism.

Zimmerman’s acquittal surely has many wondering how racist violence is going to be stemmed and reversed when racists see that Zimmerman got acquitted.

It is easier for me to raise issues and questions than to provide answers. However, we must start somewhere, and that is by raising the issues in the first place. Clearly passing laws will not, by itself, achieve racial justice. Laws cannot force racists to change their racist opinions. However, laws can coerce them to change their behavior to avoid legal and criminal liability. When each new generation sees the adverse legal and social consequences of racist behavior, that is one more factor that might lead that many in the new generation’s members to reject the path of racism.

The Paula Deen scandal is an example of how so many of today’s corporations are at least somewhat talking the talk — whether or not they are truly walking the walk — against racial bigotry. Otherwise, Deen would not have so rapidly suffered the loss of millions of dollars’ worth of corporate partnerships.

I have not closely followed the case of George Zimmerman — whose mother is Hispanic, for whatever that is worth in the racial dynamics of his case — to know how racist or not he is, and the extent to which racial profiling did or did not motivate his actions with Trayvon Martin. I do know, though, that young African American men are particularly constant targets of racial profiling. I once read an article about a mother who prepared her African American son for such profiling, lest he have to learn about this painful reality on his own. No parent should ever have to even consider advising their child about the racism awaiting them after leaving the home.

For all my many sharp disagreements with Barack Obama — who is biracial — including his being Tweedledee to George Bush II’s Tweedledum in severely trampling on civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism, his reaching and being re-elected to the presidency hopefully contributes hugely to one day achieving a truly color-blind society. The road to such a society remains a very long and arduous one; it is a path that must be taken.

In a separate blog entry, soon, I plan to address some of the criminal defense aspects of Zimmerman’s case. (Some of those thoughts are on my Twitter page from last Sunday.) However, I could not get those words out here before first addressing the rampant racism that sadly is a daily reality in the United States.