“Black boys in this country are not allowed to be children. They are assumed to be men, and to be full of menace.”
—Eugene Robinson, Washington Post columnist
y now you have heard that “Juror B37” has talked to Anderson Cooper of CNN and that she has signed on with a literary agent in hopes of cashing in on her jury service. Judging from the quality of her analysis, judging by her confusion and the way she apprehended what was going on in that courtroom in Florida, judging by her utter failure to understand the larger issues involved in this case, I will say that if her book gig fails, she would make a perfect host of “Fox and Friends,” where bias, as well as confused, sloppy thinking, is an asset.
In any case, this juror believed that the man who shot Trayvon Martin in the heart was a man “whose heart was in the right place,” whose real problem was his over-eagerness “to help people,” who, well, I’ll let her say it:
…I think George was pretty consistent and told the truth, basically. I’m sure there were some fabrications, enhancements, but I think pretty much it happened the way George said it happened.
Yeah, “George” may have fudged the truth a little bit, he may have told things in such a way as to make it look better for him, but it “pretty much” happened the way “George” said it happened, which, of course, made Trayvon Martin ultimately responsible for his own death:
COOPER: So you think, based on the testimony you heard, you believe that Trayvon Martin was the aggressor?
JUROR: I think the roles changed. I think, I think George got in a little bit too deep, which he shouldn’t have been there. But Trayvon decided that he wasn’t going to let him scare him and get the one-over, up on him, or something. And I think Trayvon got mad and attacked him.
“Trayvon got mad.” There was exactly zero evidence for that conclusion, but, as I said before, Trayvon Martin was found guilty of his own killing.
Juror B37 went on to say that she didn’t believe race had anything at all to do with this case:
COOPER: Do you feel that George Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin? Do you think race played a role in his decision, his view of Trayvon Martin as suspicious?
JUROR: I don’t think he did. I think just circumstances caused George to think that he might be a robber, or trying to do something bad in the neighborhood because of all that had gone on previously. There were unbelievable, a number of robberies in the neighborhood.
COOPER: So you don’t believe race played a role in this case?
JUROR: I don’t think it did. I think if there was another person, Spanish, white, Asian, if they came in the same situation where Trayvon was, I think George would have reacted the exact same way.
This white female juror cannot see, or says she cannot see, what so many black people know in their bones: that race had very much to do with this case and that if Trayvon Martin had been white, none of what subsequently happened would have happened.
And that, I submit, is the problem this case highlights: there are a lot of white people who don’t understand that being black in America is a different experience from being white, that being a young black man in America is especially a different experience.
Eugene Robinson, an African-American and columnist for The Washington Post, wrote:
If anyone wonders why African Americans feel so passionately about this case, it’s because we know that our 17-year-old sons are boys, not men. It’s because we know their adolescent bravura is just that — an imitation of manhood, not the real thing.
We know how frightened our sons would be, walking home alone on a rainy night and realizing they were being followed. We know how torn they would be between a child’s fear and a child’s immature idea of manly behavior. We know how they would struggle to decide the right course of action, flight or fight.
And we know that a skinny boy armed only with candy, no matter how big and bad he tries to seem, does not pose a mortal threat to a healthy adult man who outweighs him by 50 pounds and has had martial arts training (even if the lessons were mostly a waste of money). We know that the boy may well have threatened the man’s pride but likely not his life. How many murders-by-sidewalk have you heard of recently? Or ever?
Contrast that with what Gene Lyons, a columnist I respect and admire very much, wrote some days ago—something I haven’t been able to get out of my head since—about the Martin-Zimmerman case:
On the evidence, it’s clear that both Zimmerman and Martin acted badly, with tragic consequences — Zimmerman by carrying around that accursed gun he was in no way qualified to handle, and Martin through foolhardy teenaged bravado. One life ended, another destroyed.
But not necessarily symbols of anything greater than their own confusion and folly.
That kind of statement, that Trayvon Martin was acting out of some kind of “foolhardy teenaged bravado,” that there is no symbolism attached to this case beyond “confusion and folly,” could only have been written by a guy who has not raised black sons. It may qualify as the most ignorant thing Gene Lyons has ever written.
All of which brings me to a discussion on Morning Joe this morning, which is must-see TV for anyone truly interested in the two Americas that so many black Americans wake up to each and every day. I will post the segment below, but I want to call your attention to observations made by two black men of very different political persuasions, Eugene Robinson, the liberal Washington Post columnist, and Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Both men, who have raised boys, said that they had to teach their sons that being a young black man in America requires learning a set of rules that white sons don’t have to learn. If they are to survive or thrive, even as middle-class black kids and later as adults, there are certain things they have to know, to do. Michael Steele said to his kids:
Remember, when you walk out that door, you are a black man in America. And you need to understand what that means when people see you, how they look at you, how they approach you, what they think about you, and how they will deal with you. Because it’s not the same for your white friends. It’s not the same for your other friends. Because a lot of history walks with you out that door.
That’s unacceptable in twenty-first century America.
White folks should not ignore that history, or pretend it didn’t happen, or pretend that all is now well. We shouldn’t pretend that there are no larger issues attached to the tragic encounter between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. There are. And that is why all of us, black and white, need to find ways—starting with recognizing the reality behind what happened in Sanford, Florida—to change what it means to be a young black kid-man in America, especially now that half the country has adopted stand-your-ground vigilantism as a way of life.
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