Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Mountain that the Prosecution in the Zimmerman Case Cannot Overcome: Black Men are Intimately Linked to Crime in the (White) Popular Imagination

[I have received some very kind emails in response to my series of pieces on the George Zimmerman trials and his killing of Trayvon Martin. I have been following this case since the beginning and will continue to offer my thoughts and observations on it through to the duration. 

Those essays here and on the Daily Kos have brought quite a few new readers to We Are Respectable Negroes. As I do during such moments, I inaugurate an informal fundraising drive.

I do not advertise or monetize my work here on WARN. I also choose not to run advertisements or sponsorship because I want to remain independent. Random monies thrown into the tip jar Paypal bucket are however always appreciated. My work here and elsewhere are labors of love. However, I never refuse encouragement.]


George Zimmerman is going to walk free, acquitted and made a victim/martyr in a week or so. He always wanted to be the hero protector of his neighborhood. The vigilante killer will soon get his wish--and a book deal or three before this matter concludes.

Is George Zimmerman innocent of murdering Trayvon Martin? Of course not. But do not forget that justice has little to do with matters of the law.

The yammering talking heads on TV, radio, and online, who are offering up commentary on the case, have for the most part, missed one essential and obvious fact about it.

There is not one "justice" system in the United States of America. There are multiple ones which reflect a given person's race and class. Poor people do not get rich people's justice. Black and brown folks do not get white folks' justice. The data on incarceration rates and disparate sentencing offers overwhelming support for those claims.

The prosecution has to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" and a "preponderance of the evidence" that Zimmerman broke the law and murdered Trayvon Martin. In their pursuit of a conviction for second degree murder, the prosecution also has to demonstrate that Zimmerman acted with prejudice and a depraved mindset in his actions that rainy night.

The commentariat class have ignored an additional burden of proof for the prosecution's case.

In the (white) American psyche and collective consciousness black men are intimately linked to assumptions about criminality. Despite what the law would suggest, black men (and women) are assumed to be guilty until proven innocent. Moreover, black and brown folks received stiffer and more severe sentences than whites charged with the same crimes. Juries are also more likely to give the death penalty to people of color.

It also does not matter that aggregate crime statistics tell us almost nothing about a given person's propensity to commit a crime: in all, white racial "common sense" is made the rule of law despite how empirical data would suggest otherwise.

The assumption of existential criminality is a mountain and a burden which has historically proven so very difficult to surpass and overcome for black Americans. Save for a few voices who have pointed out the obvious, i.e. that Trayvon Martin had every right to stand his ground against a "creepy cracker" and stalker with a gun, such logic does not hold for Middle America, and those others drunken on the white racial frame, because their standing prior is that black men are vicious hoodlum thugs and giant Negroes who are "naturally" criminal and violent.

The thin blue line, both formal with a badge, and informal through vigilante killers like George Zimmerman, is not race neutral. Throughout American history, both have been cogs in the engine of power and white authority that have been used by the racial state to oppress, control, kill, and brutalize non-whites. A majority white jury faced with conflicting testimony, and where a black teenager was killed by a wannabe cop, will most certainly hedge their bets and follow their own deeply taught and acculturated fear of black men to its "logical conclusion."

Why? Better safe than sorry when it comes to policing and killing black folks lest he or she who pulls the trigger make a mistake, and "one of those fucking punks" gets away.

In keeping with the law, the jury will also ask themselves if George Zimmerman was "in fear of his life?" Of course he was. Black men, black women, black children, and black teenagers are lethal killers from birth.

What "reasonable" person wouldn't be afraid of them?

If cops routinely decide that black Americans who are holding harmless objects such as cell phones, house keys, and wallets as people are in fact armed with deadly objects, and thus as existential threat to be shot and killed, why would the jury in the Zimmerman trial not assume that Trayon Martin was in the wrong because he dared to defend himself?

You tell me.

If Trayvon Martin had surrender his human dignity and Constitutional rights to white authority and laid spread eagle on the ground and said "yes, boss" to George Zimmerman perhaps he would be alive today. What a bargain to choose. I for one am tempted to always choose resistance and perhaps death if it means maintaining my dignity. Because black Americans and other people of color have only "contingent citizenship" in these United States, we are forced to make such bargains. Dignity has its price.

What do you think the verdict in the George Zimmerman case will be? Sitting here, things looking mighty grim for Trayvon Martin.


Sunkissed said...

Not that I want it to happen, but do you think riots will break out if Zimmerman goes free? Will this be a Rodney King case for this generation? Or have most blacks bought into the post racial lie and will be too busy dancing to accidental racist.

chauncey devega said...

They will grumble and then walk home after and obligatory protest.

Mac McComas said...

It is amazing the level of inaction that we are okay with today (he types as he sits in front of his computer). One would think that social networking would increase people's ability and desire to physically act collectively, but instead it seems to have done the opposite. We seem to think that "liking" something or giving a comment an "up-vote" is the same as marching on Washington in support of that idea. How to solve this?

Sujata said...

It boggles the mind, doesn't it? That white America can sit back and clutch its pearls about black people being criminals and violent thugs, when in actuality, it should be thanking the Bajoran Prophets daily that black communities have never really responded to the violence and grotesqueness of white racism in kind.

Oppressed minority groups across the world have begun civil conflict and engaged in guerrilla warfare over smaller plights (I'm thinking, naturally, of the IRA and the Basques' ETA), but black America has consistently turned to peace and reconciliation before violence.

It staggers me to consider how fortunate it was for white America that it ended up with a King instead of a Toussaint. And it's equally staggering how ignorant white America is for ignoring that fact.

CNu said...

It also does not matter that aggregate crime statistics tell us almost nothing about a given person's propensity to commit a crime: in all, white racial "common sense" is made the rule of law despite how empirical data would suggest otherwise.

Still dishonestly overlooking the fact that since 1970 there have been over 200,000 black on white homicides and countless more black on black homicides

chauncey devega said...

Ah the Prophets. Where is our Emissary?

There is a whole history there most are unaware of. Historically, black Americans and other people of color have been subjected to racial pogroms and riots at rates far higher than the other way around. In fact, the word riot has historically almost exclusively referred to white on black/brown violence.

CNu said...

But over the past 40 years of living memory, you have the black on black pogrom in the hood, reported nightly on the 10:00 news, and, you have the incontrovertible fact of over 200,000 black on white homicides (this of course leaves out the rapes, robberies, assaults, and burgleries....,

Miles_Ellison said...

For all the concern about the potential for riots in the event of a not guilty verdict in this case, it should be pointed out that white people have been rioting since Obama's election. Rioting takes on many different forms. People have been conditioned to define rioting as angry black people throwing rocks through store windows and walking off with big screen TVs. That's a limited definition. Repeated attempts to dismantle health care reform constitute rioting. Showing up at town hall meetings with guns and signs talking about watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants is rioting. Using the power of the Supreme Court to eliminate the protections of the Voting Rights act is rioting. Spewing racist invective under the guise of " disagreeing with policy" is rioting. Anti-woman and anti-gay policy based on ignorant and Neanderthal beliefs is rioting. I can go on and on.

The Sanity Inspector said...

Sidebar: Take ten minutes and read this old murder case from 1899. In brief, a black sharecropper walking home from Christmas activities at his church was beset by three drunk young white men, possibly dressed up as KKK. They followed him home, shot off fireworks in front of his house, and threatened to shoot his dog. He came out of his house into the road and knifed two of them, killing one. Verdict: guilty of murder, sustained on appeal. One of my ancestors had some involvement in this case, but I think it's of general interest because some parallels with the Martin case could be drawn.

The Sanity Inspector said...

Tough case. I can see all sides. I can see the resentment of the young man being profiled. I can see the resentment of the citizen fed up with crime plaguing his neighborhood. I can see the fear of the parents, worried that one slip by their teen children will result in jail or worse. And I can see the fear of people imagining themselves getting their heads pounded into the pavement--especially after last summer's highly publicized rash of black flash mob violence ("White Girl Bleed A Lot").

If things had ended oppositely, with Zimmerman dead and Martin explaining himself to the police, the case would be very different indeed. One, Trayvon would have been bundled straight off to jail and immediately charged with voluntary manslaughter or some such. And two, this would be a local news story in the Orlando Sentinel. As it is, the case has become freighted with so much symbolism on both sides, that if simple justice can be done it'll be a wonder.

chauncey devega said...

The basic problem here is that the killer is alive and the victim is dead. Add that to the fact that if you are black and male you are presumed guilty. Zimmerman walks.

Miles_Ellison said...

Does white America even know who Toussaint L'
Overture is? It might be against the law to teach that in schools now.

afna-mcjny said...

May I share my take of this incident? I have watched much of the trial and testimony. and I have found it very interesting but its not over, so more on that when it is.

The prosecution has not rested. My take is that they are preparing a closing statement. I would add the following to mine. A strong argument that gz was trying to capture martin, couldn't handle him and the boy was killed while defending himself can be made based on the testimony and evidence. GZ took no steps to identify himself or his intentions. He clearly followed TM well past his car for dubious reasons that appear to be a bold faced lie. WE have one testimony that suggests that GZ confronted martin. We also have verified proof that martin had run from GZ after the initial encounter. I submit to his forum that it's TM who was in fear of his life. That it was TM who was running from an armed, cop wannabee who wanted to capture and hold him for police. I submit to you that this victim put up such a fight in foiling gz's plans that he shot him to death. I do believe that death was not the intention of gz. It was the consequences of a series of poor decisions and knee jerk judgments that sent him running into the night with a flashlight that didn't work and a gun after someone who wasn't committing a crime.

csm said...

If ever there was a test to determine if what motivates the tea bagging/right wing/GOP is racism, the Zimmerman case is it.

They support Zimmerman, even though he clearly is someone who they would normally hate as a "Mexican." Yet he's been taken up as a cause celebre by the racists not so much for who he is, but for who he shot.

Before any of the latest Zimmerman story came out about Martin ambushing him from non-existent bushes, when all we knew was Zimmerman saw Martin, followed and shot him, while he was minding his own business coming back from the store, they were already calling Martin a "thug" who deserved to be killed on the basis of nothing else but his race.

If this were 1955 they would be cheering on Emmett Till's killers. If it was 1963 they'd be cheering on the killer of Medgar Evers. They would have said no need for a trial in those cases. And if it was 1869 they'd be cheering on the Klan for destroying Reconstruction.

csm said...

If that had happened it wouldn't even be news, as is typically the case. There would have been no consideration for Martin's side of the story, and the charge would have been first degree murder. End of story.