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When the verdict of The State of Florida v. George Zimmerman disclosed on the evening of Friday, July 12, it pains me to say, I wasn’t surprised. That isn’t to imply my spirit was unmoved – no, that is the furthest from the truth. It didn’t come as a shock to me, however, that in a case determined by six non-black jurors, a case that – for murder, mind you – took six weeks to charge the defendant and 17 months to even see the inside of a courthouse, a case that saw the vilification of an unarmed teenager shot dead by a pursuing vigilante specifically instructed by law enforcement to do absolutely nothing – it didn’t come as a shock to me that Trayvon Martin was found guilty of provoking his own death by the state of Florida and that George Zimmerman, a gun-toting neighborhood watch volunteer with a history of violent crime, walked freely back into the world, guilty of no crime the night of February 26, 2012.
This is the sort of disappointing reality my father prepared me for as a young, black male in these United States. I tried throughout my adolescence to use every characteristic quality at my disposal to defeat even the smallest inclinations of racial profiling. I’d convinced myself during the greater part of my teenaged and years of young adulthood that I could force people – I could force the world to acknowledge my character before my complexion. After years of removing excessive bass from my voice, smiling at first instinct and articulating my r’s and -ing’s, my most especially black features have hardened over time. Whether it was being called a nigger for the first time at seven-years old, being forced into anger management from the fourth to eighth grade or being slammed against a wall and floor by three white police officers just last year, at some point I was given what my old man referred to as “a black man’s reality check,” after which he patted me on the back and said, “I’m sorry, son.”
Trayvon Martin wasn’t the first and certainly will not be the last to die by the hands and individual motivations of those justified under the guise of the law. I say this with no intent to remove significance or undermine the magnitude of this case, in particular; however this brand of racially-motivated injustice has long embedded itself in the fabric of the American black experience. In this country, a black man is killed every 28 hours by an officer of the law or someone acting under that authority. This silent genocide is vindicated in the news and media after generations of painting the faces of murder, rape and numerous other incivilities black. The perpetuation of black savagery isn’t anything new as it is the New Testament, colonial motivation and the assumed less-than-humanity our African ancestry possessed that justified slavery, the diaspora and inhumanity that encompassed them. Though there are just as many crimes committed across racial stratifications, African-Americans are six times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, as well as spend 60-percent more time in federal prison than whites guilty the same or similar offenses.
As outraged as I am with the fate of Trayvon Martin and the message it sends to not only the African-American community but the United States in its entirety, what angers me more is that this tragedy, that, at one point, became a spectacle and circus for the nation and media, now serves as a platform to blow the dust off and reopen age-old discussions about race in America that do nothing but pander to and ultimately, pacify our collective dissatisfaction with a justice system and society rooted in the criminalization of blacks and therefore, replete with racial bias. How can holding hands, sharing platitudes and joining in together in old, Negro spirituals bring reformation to something so inherently American as the proliferation of The System at the expense of the poor and non-white?
I don’t have a solution to the skewed perception and resulting treatment of black people in America. Some say the election and inauguration of a black president twice is enough indication that the country has conquered the race plague, that the troubles of our forefathers are things of antiquity, no longer relevant in this post-racial society. And I’ll willfully agree that great strides have been made to diminish long-held misconceptions of race – on paper. Laws, litigation and legislation have effectively put into print a greater America than just generations before but the same can’t be said about the implanted conditioning that has outlived those credited with the founding of this nation. The damage is done. No celebrity, no leader, no organization, no black president could’ve prevented Trayvon from losing his life that night. So we put our faith into the justice system to, at the very least, give the victim’s family peace of mind in convicting the man who murdered their seventeen-year old son. What happened was: the fundamental racism that led George Zimmerman to pursue and kill Trayvon Martin that rainy night in February is the same racism that was applied by the state of Florida to find nothing criminal in an altercation that led to the murder of who the defendant who then described the victim as “one of them.”
I wasn’t surprised when on July 12, a jury of six found seventeen-year old, unarmed Trayvon Martin guilty of provoking his own murder by being a hooded, young, black male in America and I won’t be surprised when the world forgets about it. I can lighten my voice and skin tone in an attempt to lessen the blow that race still deals 50 years after the black and white nightmares of police batons, fire hoses and German Shepherds were reality but for what benefit, in the end? My life can easily turn into Trayvon’s and the people employed to serve the state with taxpayer dollars will blame me. This is no revealing turning-point in American race relations, no opportunity to reanalyze the effectiveness of the justice system, no reason to come together as a nation. This is one of the many stories black fathers have to tell their little, black sons.