I've resisted commenting on a number of issues raised by the Trayvon Martin affair, because until a verdict had been reached by the jury, such comments would only further inflame an already unstable and contentious situation. The 'not guilty' verdict won't do anything to cool emotions and soothe raw sensibilities, but we can at least now debate the issues involved without prejudicing the judicial process.
In this article, I'd like to examine the racial divide in the USA. This case has demonstrated that the divide stems from, and is almost exclusively perpetuated by, one side of that divide. Almost every single racially motivated comment during this entire affair has come from the Black community and/or its defenders and allies in the progressive and liberal wing of US politics. For example, after yesterday's verdict:
Prof. Maurice Jackson (on CNN) - "It's something bigger because Trayvon Martin is all of our sons. He's the son of all people who are African-American and of those who are conscious of what it means to be black in America ... I feel for his parents. This is a sad day for democracy and for justice."
Prof. George Ciccariello-Maher (on CNN) - "This verdict was prepared from day one. From the media campaign of demonizing Martin, to the selection of a nonblack jury, to the instruction not to refer to race ... his was the chronicle of an acquittal foretold."
Rapper Qtip (on CNN) - "Can't be surprised... Black life has no value in this country."
Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman of the NAACP (on HLN) - “Today, justice failed Trayvon Martin and his family. We call immediately for the Justice Department to conduct an investigation into the civil rights violations committed against Trayvon Martin. This case has re-energized the movement to end racial profiling in the United States.”
Al Sharpton, activist (on CNN) - "The acquittal of George Zimmerman is a slap in the face to the American people but it is only the first round in the pursuit of justice."
As (black) Prof. Jelani Cobb put it in the New Yorker:
The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found innocent: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty. During his cross examination of Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, defense attorney Mark O’Mara asked if she was avoiding the idea that her son had done something to cause his own death. During closing arguments, the defense informed the jury that Martin was armed because he weaponized a sidewalk and used it bludgeon to George Zimmerman. During his post-verdict press conference, O’Mara said that were his client black, he would never have been charged. At the defense’s table, and in the precincts far beyond it where donors stepped forward to contribute the funds that underwrote their efforts, there is a sense that George Zimmerman was the victim.
O’Mara’s statement echoed a criticism that began circulating long before Martin and Zimmerman encountered each other. Thousands of black boys die at the hands of other African Americans each year, but the black community, it holds, is concerned only when those deaths are caused by whites. It’s an appealing argument, and widespread, but simplistic and obtuse. It’s a belief most easily held when you’ve not witnessed peace rallies and makeshift memorials, when you’ve turned a blind eye to grassroots organizations like the Interrupters in Chicago working valiantly to stem the tide of violence in the city. It is the thinking of people who’ve never wondered why African Americans disproportionately support strict gun control legislation. The added quotient of outrage in cases like this one stems not from the belief that a white murderer is somehow worse than a black one, but from the knowledge that race determines whether fear, history, and public sentiment offer that killer a usable alibi.
. . .
To be black at times like this is to see current events on a real-time ticker, a Dow Jones average measuring the quality of one’s citizenship. Trayvon Martin’s death is an American tragedy, but it will mainly be understood as an African-American one. That it occurred in a country that elected and reëlected a black president doesn’t diminish the despair this verdict inspires, it intensifies it. The fact that such a thing can happen at a moment of unparalleled political empowerment tells us that events like these are a hard, unchanging element of our landscape.
There's more at the link.
All these statements ignore the evidence presented during the trial. They simply don't bother to take the facts of the matter into account. Instead, the knee-jerk reaction is to presume that race is - must be - at the root of the case. Frankly, I find such attitudes incomprehensible; but they're so widespread in the black community that they're a reality with which one has to deal, whether one likes it or not. It's futile to say, "Well, they're wrong, so that's that - they've just got to live with it." They won't 'live with it'. This sort of racial knee-jerk response has become the norm for many black Americans.
- They don't so much ignore the facts of a particular case as supersede or override them, in their own minds, with what they perceive to be more important 'facts' about race and color.
- They regard those of us who do place great emphasis on the facts of the case, as opposed to facts about race, as being demonstrably racially prejudiced by that very emphasis. When we indignantly reject this as a lie and an unjustified slur, their response is to shrug and say, "See? You don't take us seriously! That proves our point!"
- Their reality is defined in large measure by feelings rather than facts. As far as they're concerned, George Zimmerman is a living embodiment of any and every racially prejudiced white man who's ever oppressed any black man. He's guilty by association, irrespective of the truth of the matter.
You or I might look at those statements and shake our heads in disbelief that anyone could be so stupid. Unfortunately, that ignores the reality that we can be equally stupid in other ways. To take just one example with which I'm sure we're all familiar, today many progressive and left-wing Americans (of all races) look down on their more conservative fellow citizens as 'wingnuts' living in 'flyover country' who are 'clinging to their guns and religion'. Many of the latter, in their turn, look down on the former as 'liberal whack-jobs' or 'moonbats'. Both sides are all too often equally guilty of dismissing the other out of prejudice and bigotry, rather than recognizing them as human beings with differing opinions. We don't consider the facts of the matter - only our own opinions. Sound familiar?
Frankly, I don't know how we're going to deal rationally with this deep-rooted knee-jerk racial reaction in the black community. It's been deliberately whipped up and kept at fever pitch by activists such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson - individuals for whom I have no respect whatsoever, given their track records, but who are idolized by many within their own race. It's supported and encouraged by progressive and liberal factions in US politics, because it ensures that black votes will overwhelmingly go to their candidates. There are too many vested interests fostering, encouraging and working to entrench such prejudices. Tragically, the existence of such irrational, prejudiced attitudes inevitably engenders equally irrational, prejudiced attitudes in response. Newton's Third Law of Motion ("For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction") has often been said to apply to human interactions as much as it does to physical forces.
There will be another case like this, when the next Trayvon Martin - a drug-using, wannabe illegal gun-purchaser or -seller and gang-banger, according to the evidence of his own cellphone and Twitter accounts - meets up with the next George Zimmerman - an over-eager unofficial protector of his neighborhood who makes unwise decisions in the heat of the moment, which lead to much more serious consequences than anticipated. It's inevitable, given the nature of our society . . . and I fear the reaction will be just as inevitable, perhaps made worse by the outcome of this case. Facts can no longer affect such reactions, I'm afraid. They're a given, a reality with which we must learn to deal.
I wish Mr. Zimmerman had stayed in his car, rather than gotten out and followed Trayvon Martin . . . but that's water under the bridge.
I hope others will learn from this situation, and not follow his example in future . . . but that's probably a pipe-dream.
So, what does this imply for our own conduct, if we're not black? Quite a lot.
- We should avoid potential conflict situations if at all possible. If we don't get into a confrontation, we're much less likely to have to fight our way out of it.
- If confrontation is inevitable (for example, if we're unjustly or criminally attacked), we need to defend ourselves vigorously, but only to the extent necessary to fend off the attack. If we use force that might be considered disproportionate, we can expect to be pilloried for it in the court of public opinion, even if not in a court of law. We may claim we don't care about public opinion; but what if our employer is forced to fire us due to public pressure, or our neighbors shun us, or our homes and/or cars are vandalized, or our kids face retaliation from their peers at school, because of our actions? That puts an entirely different complexion on the problem, doesn't it?
- If we defend ourselves against an attacker of a different race, we should expect a racial response and prepare a defense against it. This should begin right now. If we establish a reputation as being fair, having no racial prejudices to speak of, being impartial - all those things will work in our favor in our time of need. On the other hand, if others can report (as they undoubtedly will) that they've heard us use racial epithets or slurs, or demonstrate intolerance of others . . . that's going to come back to haunt us, as it did George Zimmerman. Fortunately, he'd established the right reputation beforehand, so he was able to refute those reports.
- We should expect the response of law enforcement to be conditioned by political realities. As the former police chief of Sanford, FL pointed out, "he felt pressure from city officials to arrest Zimmerman to placate the public rather than as a matter of justice. 'It was (relayed) to me that they just wanted an arrest. They didn't care if it got dismissed later,' he said." (When he refused to let the facts of the case be subordinated to politics, he was forced out of office.) We may not be guilty of any crime, but we must expect to be treated as if we were.
- We should expect that whether we like it or not, whether it's true or not, we're going to be judged according to the prejudices of others rather than the facts of the matter. What may appear to us to be a perfectly normal, friendly gesture, such as offering a piece of fried chicken to a colleague at an employer's social gathering, may well be taken as racist and offensive. It doesn't matter how we intend it; it'll be judged by how the recipient perceives it. We need to educate ourselves as to how others perceive the reality around them, and do our best to avoid offending their sensibilities. Yes, we may think (as I do) that this is ridiculous; but that's the reality we face, whether we like it or not.
A final thought. Mr. Zimmerman was probably fortunate that this incident occurred, and he was tried, in Florida, a state with mixed political influences. If it had happened in a state dominated by progressive and/or left-wing and/or black groups, does anyone doubt that he'd today be sitting behind bars? (Calls for Justice Department intervention to re-try Mr. Zimmerman on civil rights charges are designed to produce precisely that outcome, of course, irrespective of his acquittal on criminal charges. Federal courts are perceived as less susceptible to state influence.)
Location has become an important element in whether or not you dare defend yourself in these United States. For those who take freedom and liberty seriously, I suggest you need to consider your environment - and move, if necessary, to a state that will allow you to remain free.
EDITED TO ADD: David McElroy has some trenchant thoughts on the Martin-Zimmerman affair. I found myself nodding in agreement at most of them. Recommended reading.