On February 26, 2012 neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman murdered 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman avoided arrest by claiming self-defense. Florida has a stand-your-ground clause which allows a defender to use lethal force against an attacker if his or her life is in danger. As more facts come out about the case, it seems that Zimmerman was the aggressor and Martin was the one acting in self-defense. Almost a month after the Trayvon Martin’s murder, George Zimmerman is still a free man. The Justice Department is looking into the case due to accusations of a police cover up and racial bias by the Sanford Police Department. The grand jury is investigating the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and will convene on April 10th, 2012 to decide if George Zimmerman violated any federal laws.
The Trayvon Martin case is parallel to the historical figure Emmett Till. Emmett Till was a 14-year-old African-American male murdered in Mississippi by a Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam after allegedly flirting with a White woman. These men tortured, mutilated, and shot Emmett Till in the head. They dumped his body into the Tallahatchie River with a 70-pound cotton gin fan around his neck with barbed wire. Emmett Till’s mother had a public funeral service with an open casket, where the world saw the brutal nature of Emmett Till’s murder. Millions of people mobilized around Emmett Till’s case and the public scrutinized the state of Mississippi for their inhuman treatment of Black citizens. Bryant and Milam went to trial for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till and were eventually acquitted. Months later Bryant and Milam admitted to the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till in a magazine interview. Due to double jeopardy laws, they could not be prosecuted again.
Both Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till had their young lives stolen due to racial hatred. Their blackness made them criminal and inhuman in the eyes of the perpetrators who took their lives. Society has condition people to view young black men as dangerous which makes it easier for take their lives in a conflict. For example studies show that police homicide rate for blacks was nine times higher than whites. Unfortunately not much has changed since the 1950s. State sanctioned discrimination of Black people are still alive today whether is through police brutality or inequality in the justice system. The law didn’t protect the rights and dignity of Black people in 1950 and 60 years later nothing much has changed. In 2012 racists are manipulating the law and getting away with the murder of innocent black citizens. Has the Black community really made strides in the United States or are we all under this grand delusion that society views us as human?
Any crime against a black person often comes with arguments from detractors who justify why the black victim deserved to have their rights violated. Black people do not fit America’s standards of the perfect victim which is why our lives are often scrutinized if another party violates our rights. I’ve watch various news reports about Trayvon Martin and interestingly enough, he the victim, has received more scrutiny than his murderer George Zimmerman. News media reported that Trayvon Martin was on a five-day suspension from school. How is that relevant to George Zimmerman shooting him in the chest? Some assumed that the suspension was due to fighting. One of Trayvon’s teachers came forth and explained that Trayvon was an A and B student and the suspension was due to tardiness and that he was a pleasant, well liked boy. Some people asked why Trayvon Martin was walking around his father’s neighborhood and didn’t just corporate with Zimmerman. Let’s think logically. Why would any teenager in their right mind stop at night to talk to a complete stranger, who isn’t in a police uniform? If anyone looks dangerous, it’s George Zimmerman. Truthfully it wasn’t until the media and other groups determined that Trayvon Martin was as close to the “perfect victim” as a black person can before his case went viral. Trayvon’s innocent youthful look in comparison to the menacing, overweight George Zimmerman allowed the mainstream to feel sympathy for the young man. Trayvon Martin was the one with the clean record while George Zimmerman had earlier charges of battery and resisting arrest in 2005 which was later expunged.
Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, and countless of other black youth who didn’t get media attention for their murders, represent a disturbing pattern in the American justice system. If George Zimmerman isn’t tried and convicted of murder, it will solidify that crimes against black people will go unpunished. The Black community needs to use this latest incident to mobilize and get involved in activism instead of depending on figureheads like the NAACP and Al Sharpton to fight all the battles. Trayvon Martin’s case is disturbing because he is a more accurate representation of Black people. Trayvon wasn’t a criminal or a thug but a normal young man who had big dreams and parents who cared about him. It was easy to dissociate crimes against black men when they were thugs or ex-cons but the murder of an innocent black boy is the wake up call needed in the Black Community. More disturbing is that the justice system is dragging their feet and there is a strong possibility that George Zimmerman will walk away a free man. Will Black people use this incident to lash out angry and become pacified or will our community become more strategic in our fight for equality and fair treatment in the country that our ancestors built from their blood, sweat, and tears?
- The Killing of Trayvon Martin (Cont.) (esquire.com)
- Trayvon Martin death: Slain black youth that galvanized the nation (SLIDESHOW) (thegrio.com)
- Rev. Al Sharpton: Why race matters in the Trayvon Martin tragedy (thegrio.com)