The killing of Trayvon Martin has brought many people together, but has exposed the various divisions along racial, political and media lines as well. As America awaits the possible arrest of George Zimmerman for killing the 17-year-old Black man, the chasm widens. Trayvon’s death may not have created these divisions, but rather—like the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, the O.J.Simpson trial and the execution of Troy Davis—it reminds us that these divisions stubbornly refuse to disappear.
The polls bear out the reality. For example, a new Washington Post-ABC poll found that 55 percent of Whites believe Blacks and other minority groups are not treated the same as Whites in the criminal justice system. However, over 80 percent of Blacks feel that they and others are getting a raw deal in the courts compared to whites.
Other major polls have framed the divide in terms of Black and non-Black attitudes about the case, and in doing so have ignored the views of Latinos, the nation’s largest and fastest growing “minority” group. And when this rather important demographic is not ignored outright, Hispanics are lumped together with White Americans and rendered white.
For example, according to a Gallup poll, most Blacks think Zimmerman is guilty of a criminal act, and three-quarters believe racial bias was a factor. Meanwhile, only 11 percent of non-Blacks say Zimmerman is definitely guilty, and most said they had no opinion or were unclear. The polls mirror the racial divide in 1995 following the O.J. Simpson verdict, when Gallup reported that 78 percent of Blacks thought the jury was correct to find Simpson not guilty of murder, as opposed to only 42 percent of Whites.
Race is an inextricable part of the Trayvon Martin shooting and its aftermath. An unarmed Black teen was shot to death and the police refused to arrest, and the prosecutor refused to indict, Zimmerman, who has claimed self-defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. The shooter appears to have used a racial epithet in the 911 call to police the night of the incident. Further, voices in the Black community are reasonable to conclude that a Black murder suspect under similar circumstances would have been arrested immediately and thrown under the jail.