July 18, 2013

By Thandisizwe Chimurenga

Sentinel Contributing Writer


George Michael Zimmerman, the accused murderer of Trayvon Benjamin Martin, was found not guilty by a jury of his peers on July 13, 2013. The insurance investigator and self-proclaimed neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Florida, had been charged with 2nd degree murder in the death of Martin, 17, who was on his way home after going to a 7/11 store to purchase some Skittles and iced tea.

The verdict was shocking but not necessarily surprising.  “Long before the jury announced its decision, many people had seen what the outcome would be, had known that it would be a strange echo of the words Zimmerman uttered that rainy night in central Florida: they always get away,” stated Jelani Cobb in the New Yorker magazine not long after the verdict was announced on July 13.

Around the country, civil rights and social justice leaders, activists, journalists, parents, and others have decried the verdict, stating that the message it represents is that “Black life has no value.”

“The Zimmerman jury told young Black men what we already knew,” said Cord Jefferson writing on the online site Gawker. 

“To the contrary, what is constantly reinforced and restated in every way imaginable is the idea that in this country a white life is more valuable than a Black life,” wrote Bakari Kitwana.  “It’s part of our educational structure. It comes screaming daily through our news media, our criminal justice system, and from all three branches of the federal government, be it the Supreme Court, Congress or even the president himself,” said Kitwana on the Global Grind online news site. 

Contrarian voices have also been raised throughout this entire ordeal, asserting that had the murderer of Trayvon Martin been African-American there would have been no outcry and no movement at all.

“49% of murder victims are black men. 93% of those are killed by other blacks. Media don’t care. Obama doesn’t care, according to Ben Shapiro, an editor for the Breitbart News website.  Shapiro is a conservative, but his central thesis that violent acts such as murder committed by Blacks against other Blacks is a non- issue in the Black community was echoed long before Zimmerman shot Martin through the heart with a 9 mm.

The issue of Black on Black on violence is important however there is one glaring difference between the majority of such instances and the death of Trayvon Martin:  Zimmerman was not charged with a crime until six weeks later after both social/new and traditional media picked up the case and a special prosecutor had been appointed by Florida’s governor.  As Jamelle Bouie wrote on The Daily Beast on July 15, “ ... Martin’s case had less to do with the identity of the shooter and everything to do with the appalling disinterest of the local police department.” 

Just like with the initial attempts to have George Zimmerman arrested and stand trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin, calls for George Zimmerman to be tried on federal charges of violating Trayvon Martin’s civil rights have been made by the NACCP and Rev. Jesse Jackson.  Speaking on the CNN program New Day on July 14, Rev. Jackson stated “There's a Trayvon in every town. That's why the Department of Justice has a role to play, to look at this pattern, because equal protection under the law remains elusive.”

Benjamin Todd Jealous, executive director of the NAACP, said “We will pursue civil rights charges with the Department of Justice, we will continue to fight for the removal of Stand Your Ground laws in every state, and we will not rest until racial profiling in all its forms is outlawed.”

The U.S. Justice Department has stated that they will look into the case to see if it is feasible to bring civil rights charges against Zim­merman. “Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the Department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial,” Dena W. Iverson, a Justice spokes­person, said in a statement released July 14.

Relying on federal intervention to correct wrongs that go unaddressed (or inflicted by) the states is a time-honored Civil Rights tactic that also comes as no surprise.

Beyond the legal and investigative routes and the time it takes for such matters to conclude however, there remains another unanswered question:  how do we protect ourselves and our children from this happening again?

Bakari Kitwana’s answer is blunt and to the point:  “ ... the takeaway message from the “not guilty” verdict is this: if police, law enforcement and by extension, self-appointed neighborhood watch vigilantes are authorized to kill your son or mine with impunity, then it is up to us to invoke our own justice — because today the country we call home has shown us again that we have no justice coming from anywhere else.”

Category: News