My heart was broken over the recent verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial of Trayvon Martin.
As a college professor who teaches classes on African American Culture from 1865-Present, The Philosophy of W.E.B. DuBois and Examining Diversity through Film, I was somewhat prepared for the verdict. It’s not as if there weren’t historical precedent for a verdict like this.
We’ve read or seen it in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the Denzel Washington film “The Hurricane,” the Leo Frank murder trial and the Scottsboro boys trial.
And we’ve even seen the reverse of it in the O.J. Simpson trial. I remember how racially polarized our country was when that verdict arrived. Many whites saw it clearly as an unfair verdict, while most blacks and many other racially underrepresented people silently, if not outwardly, celebrated Simpson’s not-guilty verdict largely on the mere fact that a black person actually beat the system.
It didn’t hurt that he had the money to buy a top-notch defense team. Oh, and it didn’t hurt that his jury was heavily racially represented in Simpson’s favor with nine blacks, two whites (both women) and one Hispanic.
If Zimmerman had been drunk and hit Trayvon with his car, he would more than likely have been found guilty of manslaughter. But Zimmerman being “drunk” with a desire to be more important than he was is exonerated. Only in America, home of the brave, land of the free — as long as you aren’t a black youth and that freedom isn’t practiced at night in a hoodie.
All I can think of is how I would have felt hearing that verdict of not guilty if it were my son who had been stalked by an overeager wanna-be cop who was told by the police to leave him alone.
I am angry, frustrated and fearful for the lives of young black men. And without a doubt, I seriously believe the verdict might have been different if there had been a black juror who may have been more empathetic to the death of a black youth.
Oh, Henry Fonda, as Juror No. 8 in “12 Angry Men,” where were you when we needed you?
I’m not saying Zimmerman is racist, nor am I saying the jurors were racist. I am saying, though, that a jury deliberating upon the death of a black youth would have been better served with at least one black juror, even if that juror might have been clueless about the history of racism’s impact upon the judicial system in this country.
At least it would have been an attempt, albeit a stereotypically symbolic one, at doing the right thing. Instead, racial profiling gets a green light.
Now I have to have another conversation with my son that most white fathers not only don’t need to have but can’t even imagine having with their children.
At the end of this very draining recent episode in America’s history, this trial that was repeatedly touted as not about race, which somehow still featured aspects of racial profiling, leaves me bewildered and wondering: What, as a black father with reasonable consciousness, do I say to my kids to put this verdict into a context that doesn’t hamper their perspectives on their futures?
How do I ease their anxieties about the fact that everywhere they go they are now hearing that the verdict would have been different if Trayvon Martin were white and Zimmerman was black?
I guess I’m left with telling them that we, as Americans, with our problematic and still-developing racial history, may be unable to see justice in the same light.
Or maybe I’ll just sum it up with that old adage that this verdict has somehow reasserted to all black people: “Just because you are paranoid does not mean you aren’t being chased.”
J.W. Wiley, PhD, is director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion at SUNY Plattsburgh and author of the new book, “The Nigger in You: Challenging Dysfunctional Language, Engaging Leadership Moments.”