The police readily accepted Zimmerman’s assertion that he shot Martin in self-defense. Defending their own stunning (in)action, the police cited Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, which supports a person’s right to do just that (as opposed to retreat) when they feel they are in danger. But as details of the case continue to trickle out, including Zimmerman’s 911 call and Martin’s 16-year-old girlfriend’s account of their phone conversation moments before the shooting, it is unimaginable that Zimmerman’s arrest would not be imminent (of course, it’s incredible that he was still free as of this writing…).
But Zimmerman isn’t the only problem here. It’s not just his gun that killed Trayvon Martin, it’s his attitude, his presumption that a young Black man in a hoodie is obviously up to no good. Law enforcement, in this case, completely reinforced that attitude. No doubt, they helped to create it in the first place. We all play our role in tolerating, thus perpetuating, a culture in which assaulting a Black male’s character—or his very life—is accepted as a justifiable norm, and justice is slow (at best) to follow. How do we stop this? We have to stop it.
As of late Monday, after a national outcry that included online petitions signed by hundreds of thousands of anguished and angry citizens and growing pressure from the media, the U.S. Justice Department announced it would be launching an investigation into this incident as a hate crime. Perhaps that will help address the issue of putting confessed killer Zimmerman behind bars. But what of the police in this matter? What of the neighbors who didn’t come out when they heard cries for help? What of our nation’s cynicism and callousness every time a Black child goes missing or dead? What of the untold losses to our communities, our larger culture and our world that these climbing numbers of lost Black male lives represent? Why don’t we ever talk about that?
President Barack Obama was once 17. In high school, he no doubt ate candy, drank iced tea, loved sports, had girlfriends and big plans for his life even though he came from relatively humble means. Given what became of his life, we can now say there are no limits to what a Russell or Teddy or Carter can achieve. But we can’t say that about Trayvon Martin or the next young Black male to be shot for no reason other than the most fundamental, most stubborn racist views. Somebody, please tell me, what are we going to do about that? It will no longer do for us to simply shake our heads, wring our hands, and pray that they rest in peace. True justice for Trayvon Martin has to be bigger than what becomes of George Zimmerman or the local police in this case. That’s what we need to pray—and to work—toward.