So this morning I tried to focus pretty much exclusively on the facts of the case and leave my own personal interpretation out of my analysis. Of course, this is a blog and I am far from an objective, dispassionate observer of events. I also mentioned that I couldn’t quite put my finger on the issue that was so sickening to me when I first heard the story, but in order to do that I’m going to need to walk through a couple of other things first.
1. I am deeply cynical about the chance of George Zimmerman facing arrest
As I mentioned this morning, Florida’s gun laws are pretty clear-cut – if you feel threatened, you have a right to shoot to kill. It strains credulity that an unarmed 17 year-old kid (no matter how black) could pose any kind of serious threat to an armed man 10 years his senior who outweighs him by an entire human being, but that’s not important. Much like mandatory minimums, the law does not make room for discretion – it is certainly likely that Mr. Zimmerman felt threatened and fired his gun. Under all interpretations of the law that I’ve seen, there was no chargeable offense committed.
Considering the close relationship between Mr. Zimmerman and the police department, coupled with the department’s history with letting anti-black crimes slip, I can’t see much happening. Even though the federal justice department is involved, they have limited jurisdiction unless a federal law was broken. Again, from the analyses I’ve seen, unless they can demonstrate that Mr. Zimmerman fired his gun with murderous intent rather than during a struggle (and I have no idea how one would go about proving that), I think this is going to end up being another one of those examples where the clear immorality of the act committed is dismissed by the legal system. A legal system, incidentally, that is not on Trayvon’s side to begin with.
Incidentally, pro-gun folks like to talk about how more guns in the community means that people are safer. That is demonstrably untrue in this case. If Trayvon Martin had been in possession of a gun, does anyone imagine that things would have ended up any differently? George Zimmerman was trained in the use of a firearm and had a license to carry it – what difference would it have made if he hadn’t? Probably none – except it may have taken more bullets to kill Trayvon than just the one.
2. Trayvon was the perfect victim
In light of the recent publicity of what an awful person Rush Limbaugh is, many black women began pointing out how ridiculous it was to see liberals up in arms about Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke. After all, Rush had been saying things about black women for years that were just as bad or worse. Where were the boycotts and campaigns then? Sandra Fluke seemed to resonate with the general populace because, and you’ll have to excuse my cynicism, she was white and upper class. Upper-class white women don’t deserve to be called something as degrading as “slut”. Sluts are people who deserve it – Ms. Fluke didn’t qualify. Black women, on the other hand, are ‘otherable’ enough to escape notice when they are thus described. While everyone was pointing out how Limbaugh didn’t understand the issue (in reaction to his non-pology), black women understood: Limbaugh had gotten away with it before, so his read of the situation was very different from that of those who just clued in to his bigotry.
Trayvon Martin was 17, a good student, and not associated with any kind of criminal past. Therefore he didn’t deserve to get shot. Can you imagine the reaction if he had gone to the store for a beer or a pack of smokes instead? Or if he had been in that neighbourhood because he was in foster care? Or if he had been a C student instead of a B student? All it takes in cases like this is the presence of a single imperfection for the victim blaming and ignoring to begin. Trayvon Martin is far from the first black teenager to be killed despite being innocent of any crime. The reason this story has legs is because we can’t find something with which to drag him through the mud as we exonerate his killer.
3. Why this hit me so strong
A few months ago I wrote a post about my practice of shuffling my feet when walking behind people (particularly white women) at night. I intended it to be an answer to the legions of butthurt “men’s rights activists”* and other misogynist clowns who use anti-black racism as a derailing tactic when told that many women feel threatened by men. My point was that, in the absence of having to ever deal with the actual consequences of anti-black racism, and having no understanding whatsoever of the issues surrounding the phenomenon, anyone who says “being asked to watch my behaviour is the same thing as being black” is invited to eat a shit sandwich and die.
Here’s what got Trayvon killed: he didn’t ‘shuffle his feet’ enough. Trayvon walked home alone and black in a neighbourhood with a zealous watch captain. When he noticed he was being followed, he ‘foolishly’ made the decision to appear less criminal (criminal, incidentally, as defined through a particular lens). He didn’t bow and scrape obsequiously to the man in the truck with the gun, he didn’t pull back his hood to show that he was a nice boy, or put up his hands and surrender to the man who was convinced Trayvon was a criminal. He did what would occur to most people who are followed (and who don’t have the experience of being harassed or victimized) – he got angry. He stood up for his right to walk through his own neighbourhood without being viewed as a gang-banger simply because of his skin colour, age, and gender. He showed the level of self-confidence and pride that is appropriate and commensurate for someone who is innocent but who is treated as guilty by an asshole.
And it got him killed.
What happens to me on the day I decide to stop shuffling my feet? What happens if I drop my guard in the wrong neighbourhood and just do what comes naturally? What happens if I talk back to the wrong nutcase or fight back when someone stalks and assaults me because I “look suspicious”?
But hey, you can’t proposition women in an elevator. Boy, that must be tough for you.
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*There are people who legitimately agitate for equality in the places in our legal system where men are discriminated against. Unfortunately, the mainstream Men’s Rights movement has robbed these folks of their credibility.