When I heard that George Zimmerman had been found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, I just shook my head; I was disappointed, but not surprised.
The prosecution dropped the ball. Most of their own witnesses blew up in their faces. It was obvious that Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel was not properly prepared. She was not ready for the tough questions fired at her by Zimmerman’s attorney.
The prosecution made no effort to tell the jury what kind of kid Trayvon had been. Instead, they let defense attorneys portray him as a thug.
They also didn’t put enough emphasis on the fact that Zimmerman made a decision to get out of the car after the police dispatcher told him not to. That point should have been driven home to the jury ever day of that trial—again and again and again.
Most puzzlingly, why did the prosecution agree to a jury made up of five white women and an unspecified minority?
I don’t know if a different jury would have made a difference or not. However, I know from personal experience that when many older white women see a black man, their first reaction is to grab their purse, their child, or their man’s arm. Some even go so far as to cross to the other side of the street. Even President Barack Obama has said that he encountered this kind of fear when he was younger.
Perhaps the prosecution thought they had a slam-dunk. However, they should have known from the O. J. Simpson and Rodney King trials that a legal slam-dunk does not exist.
The real tragedy in all of this is the fact that a couple of bad decisions ruined the lives of two people and their families.
Zimmerman should never have gotten out of that car. He should have listened to the police dispatcher, but he did not. If Martin did in fact lash out first, as the defense attorneys claimed he did, then that was a bad decision, too. He could have simply told Zimmerman who he was and where he was going. Zimmerman could have followed him there and seen that his father lived in the neighborhood. But none of that happened. Because of that, there is a kid dead and a man who can no longer feel safe out in public.
But I don’t blame either of them; I blame us.
I’ve never understood racism. I just don’t get it. But I do know this: This incident would not have happened if we lived in a nation that lived up to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream and “judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
But we are not, as evidenced by Zimmerman’s statement to the dispatcher: “These guys always get away.” To be sure, Zimmerman profiled Martin. However, let’s not excuse Martin’s “cracker” remark. While his father says he did not raise him that way, he picked it up somewhere. Both reactions are products of a society that teaches that any black person walking down the street is looking for trouble and that white people are not to be trusted. It’s a sad fact of life and makes what happened to both of them an American tragedy.
James Shearer is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes SPARE CHANGE NEWS. He is also one of the newspaper’s original co-founders.