Like everyone who’s logged onto Facebook this week and has a diverse group of friends, I’ve read mixed reactions to the Zimmerman verdict, and seen the subsequent arguments. After several days of witnessing this aftermath, I want to reach out to those who’ve been unfriended, or something similar, because you said you didn’t see why people are up in arms.
Since so much about racism and the law has already been eloquently analyzed, I won’t get into that. What I do want to say is that if you disagree with the critical reactions to the verdict it’s okay, but please take a deep breath and realize that they’re not about you. Unless you wrote the Florida legislation, or worked for Zimmerman’s defense, there’s really no reason for you to get defensive. In fact, if you aren’t emotionally or intellectually disturbed by Trayvon Martin’s killing and the verdict, it’d be awesome if you could just try to understand where those who are are coming from.
The bottom line is that African-Americans, their loved ones, and allies, feel deeply hurt and/or betrayed by the Zimmerman verdict. You can believe to your core that none of it was racist, but that doesn’t mean you have to challenge why something is painful to an entire community. Just as Jewish people agree that the Holocaust wronged them, and the Native-American community agrees that their treatment in the U.S. was a tragedy, the African-American community agrees that the Zimmerman verdict was too. Why question an entire community’s experience?
Since so many have though, I urge those who think racism wasn’t a factor to really take racism out of the equation by imagining that all the parties involved were white. Picture a 28 y.o. white man sees a 17y.o. white boy in a hoody, thinks he looks suspicious, follows him, and calls the police. They tell him he doesn’t have to follow the kid, but he continues to anyway. The kid tells his female friend over the phone that a creepy guy is following him. She tells him he should run, but like any self-respectingly non-wimpy 17 y.o. male would do, he confronts the guy instead.
Which brings up a much overlooked phenomenon: when a person’s space is invaded by, say, someone following them, there are two typical responses: fight or flight. Given what boys are taught about sticking up for themselves, it’d be totally normal for the white kid to speak up instead of running away right? It’s the strong, brave response, and those are qualities that boys and men are encouraged to display.
But the justifications for a fight response don’t end there. Whether you’re a boy, a girl, or a boy/girl, a man, woman, or herm (and there’s the little bit of intersex-ness in this blog J ), if you run when someone is following you, you’ve basically made yourself prey. And even police advise that, “I’m scared of you”, isn’t the best message to send a predator.
Now let’s imagine the white guy claims that the white teen started wailing on him so hard that he feared for his life. Wouldn’t that sound suspicious coming from someone who felt tough enough to follow a suspected criminal? After all, how many of us have seen someone we thought might be a criminal and not followed them because we knew it would be asking for trouble? It’s just common sense.
If you were fearless enough to follow someone you suspected was a criminal, it doesn’t seem likely you’d be the kind of person who’d never thrown or taken a punch. So why not just fight the boy he’d rattled until the cops got there? Oh that’s right: the cops.
All this man would’ve had to do to stop the fight was tell the teen that the police were on their way. He’d already thought to call them, so they were obviously on his mind.
I was punched in the head several times a few years back, hard, by a black teenage girl who was pissed that I’d gotten into a car accident with her friend. Did I take out a gun and shoot her? No. (Okay, I don’t own a gun, but I know they aren’t meant to be used anytime you get hit, and if you think they are then you’re definitely not the kind of person that should have one.) I pulled out my phone, told her I was calling the cops, and she promptly ran off.
If the man was too slow on the uptake to mention the cops, he still could’ve fought it out with the teenage boy until they got there — if he didn’t want to be a killer that is. I’m not saying Zimmerman maliciously decided to kill Martin that night; he wouldn’t have called the police if he’d wanted to do that. But I am saying that he was overly aggressive in following and approaching Trayvon Martin, and in shooting him dead when he got punched for it, or Trayvon punched him back (because remember, we don’t know who threw the first punch).
What we do know is that when someone behaves so poorly that they kill an innocent person, they usually do jail time. So please ask yourself – again, taking race out of the equation — if it seems right for an adult who pursues a teenager that isn’t doing anything wrong to get zero punishment for shooting them dead when a confrontation ensues. If you agree that it doesn’t, then instead of fighting with your friends on Facebook, you can join with us to try and figure out how to stop these kinds of atrocious events from happening again.