A frequent commenter on this blog has written a couple of comments (here and here and here) regarding my opinion on the Martin-Zimmerman case. I thought I’d share with you, those of you who don’t regularly read the comment section, my latest response, which I will use as probably my last word on the subject for a while:
I have ignored some of your comments because, well, you only know a lot of what you know about what happened at the trial from watching excerpts or reading news reports about it. Nothing against that, it’s the way most of us usually get our news, but it leaves at least a few holes in your knowledge of what happened at the trial.
An important and crucial example is when you said “the evidence” showed that,
MARTIN was seen atop Zimmerman banging his head into the sidewalk.
Except that there wasn’t anyone who saw any such thing. There wasn’t any evidence, apart from Zimmerman’s self-serving account, of Trayvon Martin “banging” Zimmerman’s head into anything, much less the sidewalk. The only witness who claimed to see Martin “atop Zimmerman” was John Good, and if you had watched the trial, you would know that Good explicitly testified that he did not see the guy on top slamming the other guy’s head into concrete.
You therefore have to ask yourself why it is that you believe someone actually saw Trayvon Martin “atop Zimmerman banging his head into the sidewalk” when it clearly isn’t true. I mean that. Ask yourself why it is that you believe something, something extraordinarily important about this case, that is patently false. Perhaps that is an important clue as to why you and I differ.
Having said that, you concluded in one comment that “Two young men acted ‘stupidly.” First, Zimmerman was twenty-eight and Martin was barely seventeen, having been so about a month. One was a man and one wasn’t, but the fact that you see them both as “young men” is part of the problem. It’s what Eugene Robinson and Michael Steele were trying to say. Martin was a high-school kid and Zimmerman was the one who had the responsibility of an adult, an adult with a deadly weapon, an adult with mixed martial arts training, an adult with some knowledge of criminal law (even though he lied about it), particularly self-defense and Stand Your Ground laws.
Moreover, there was exactly no evidence that Trayvon Martin acted “stupidly.” The only account of how he acted at all at the end of the event came from a man who, if he wanted to remain free, had to portray Martin as the aggressor who acted for who knows what reason. Martin could have reacted, for all we know, because Zimmerman flashed his gun at him or otherwise threatened him with it. We don’t know, but some of us are very quick to think we do. Some of us are very quick to think that Martin was the aggressor. Why is that? Could it possibly be because he was a black kid in a hoodie? Isn’t that possible? Again, ask yourself.
We know that Zimmerman thought Martin was up to no good for essentially no other reason than he was an unknown black kid in a hoodie. He labeled him, among other things, a “fucking punk” and an “asshole” and later identified him as a “suspect.” It is because of the reactions of the George Zimmermans of this world that people like Eugene Robinson and Michael Steele have to tell their kids-becoming-adults about the special rules that govern how they should, potentially as a matter of life or death, act in public. That’s the point you don’t get and I suppose never will. You are blind to that separate reality, a reality that is true for even famous and relatively well-off black folks.
I can’t argue about what kind of kid Trayvon Martin was. He had some problems in school like a lot of kids do, a lot of white kids included. Is that how we want to finally evaluate the character of people? How much or what kind of trouble they got into in school? I can’t argue that Martin didn’t attack Zimmerman after he perceived him as some kind of threat. I can’t argue that he didn’t do something that night that contributed to his death. I wasn’t there.
But what I can fervently argue is that George Zimmerman was an adult and Trayvon Martin wasn’t. What I can vigorously contend is that Zimmerman, given his training and standing as a neighborhood watcher, should have acted like an adult, even if Trayvon Martin didn’t. What I can confidently assert is that Zimmerman, even if his suspicions were justified, still had the responsibility of identifying himself and telling Martin what he was doing, if not simply remaining in his car and waiting for the police, who were only minutes away. That’s what I can say. And that means Zimmerman bears some amount of responsibility for killing an innocent—I repeat: innocent—kid.
As far as your comment that there is no difference between raising “a black boy instead of a white one,” I’m afraid that is the problem. You refuse to acknowledge what it might be like to be a black teenager in this culture. Suppose your kids were evangelical Christians. Suppose you were raising them in a Islam-dominated culture that didn’t look too kindly on “aggressive” Christians, especially those who called themselves “evangelicals.” My guess is that you would have enough sense to offer them wise advise about how to behave out in public, in front of law enforcement officials, in all the various social situations. In short, you would raise them with a different set of rules, in terms of how to interact with those around them, than Muslim parents would raise their kids. And you would be right to do so. But that has nothing at all to do with teaching them “the basics” of other social behavior. Muslims and Christians both teach their children “right and wrong.” But a Christian in certain Muslim nations had better be aware that some kinds of behavior can get you in trouble in a hurry. Blacks, in this white-dominated culture, feel the same way, despite the fact that they too teach their kids right from wrong.
Next, I am not “furious” over anything. It sounds like fury to you because you can’t accept the fact that your lily-white reality is not the same reality as the one Trayvon Martin or his family experience, at least in some ways, on a daily basis. Sure, we all need to do what is right and follow the rules. But for some of us, doing all the right things and following the rules isn’t always enough. For some folks, teenagers who are black for instance, merely wandering home after a visit to a 7-Eleven is enough to get you killed and your killer allowed to soon go on his way. You tell me what “rule” Martin broke that night and how you know he broke that rule. And then tell me how it was that the man who killed him got to go to work the next day.
Finally, what upsets me as much as anything about this case is the outrage that many white people expressed over the demand for at least a trial in this case. The system was predisposed to believe Zimmerman, and some of us think that was the case because Martin was a black teenager. Thus, some of us believed that a trial was necessary to sort out the facts. That outraged many in the white community, and the defense attorneys expressed as much after the trial was over. They were indignant that their client was even accused of any type of crime. It was open and shut as far as they, and other white people, were concerned. That attitude is why a lot of people of color don’t trust the system. It is why a lot of black folks are marching in the streets.
And you, and others, can ignore them, you can pretend they are completely wrong and you are completely right, you can tell yourself that this kid deserved what he got. But the frustration and, in some cases, outrage, they feel won’t go away. We all have to live together in this country, like it or not, and we best get on with the business of trying to understand each other. I can think of no better way of doing so than trying to understand why black folks like Eugene Robinson, one of the calmest, most thoughtful columnists in the business, and Michael Steele, a very conservative Republican who defends right-wingers at nearly every turn, are both upset today.