Bill Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show and author of a new book, "TOXIC TALK: How the Radical Right Has Poisoned America's Airwaves." His website is billpress.com.More ↓Less ↑
Most of us were not surprised by the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. But millions of us were nonetheless disappointed and ashamed for the world to see that in this great country, in the 21st century, it’s still possible for a white man to shoot and kill an unarmed black teenager who did nothing wrong – and walk.
On the night of Feb. 26, 2012, George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Yet on the night of July 13, 2013, George Zimmerman learned he would pay no price for it. No second-degree murder conviction. Not even manslaughter. He got his freedom back. He got his life back. He’s getting his gun back. Trayvon Martin was not so lucky.
So what should we do when faced with such an unjust outcome? Being such a polite crowd, here’s what’s been drilled into us: two things. First, we’re all supposed to shrug our shoulders, and say: “Oh well, I may disagree with it, but I still accept the jury’s verdict.” Then we’re supposed to nod our heads and agree: “Of course, race had nothing to do with it.” To both of which I say: Nonsense! There’s no way to accept that outcome as valid. And race had everything to do with both the crime and the verdict.
Zimmerman may not have been guilty of second-degree murder, but he was clearly guilty of manslaughter. Remember, he’s no model citizen. In July 2005, this wanna-be cop was arrested for attacking a cop. One month later, his former fiancée filed a complaint against him for domestic violence and got a restraining order. As a member of the neighborhood watch, he was not supposed to carry a gun, but he did. The night of Feb. 26, he was told to stay in his car, but he didn’t. He chased Martin down and confronted him, leading to a fight – which, apparently, Zimmerman ended up losing. But that doesn’t necessitate or justify murder.
And why did Zimmerman pursue Martin? Not just because he was young. Not just because he was wearing a hoodie. But because he was young, wearing a hoodie – and he was black. According to police records, before confronting Martin, he’d made at least 46 calls to 911, reporting “suspicious” black males. Two days after the shooting, his cousin told police officers: “I know George. And I know that he does not like black people.” And we’re supposed to believe this wasn’t a case of racial profiling?
If he were a white teen, Trayvon Martin would still be alive today. And if roles were reversed, if Trayvon Martin, black man, had claimed to have shot and killed George Zimmerman, white man, in self-defense, Martin would already be on death row.
In 2012, John Roman of the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center reported on “Frontline” that in “Stand Your Ground” states, white people who kill black people are 354 percent more likely to be found justified in their killings than white people who kill white people. And it’s not a lot better in non-”Stand Your Ground” states, where that number goes down to 250 percent. The deck of justice is clearly stacked against black males. As it was stacked against Trayvon Martin that night.
And if you don’t think racism played a role in the jury’s deliberations, here’s what jury member B37 told CNN’s Anderson Cooper about what Trayvon Martin did to justify Zimmerman’s reporting him and confronting him: “… him being late at night, dark at night, raining, and anybody would think anybody walking down the road, stopping and turning and looking, if that’s exactly what happened, is suspicious.” Translation: black teen walking in the rain at night? Guilty!
It’s true, as many have said, that some good could come out of this tragedy if we used the occasion to reform or repeal “Stand Your Ground” laws now on the books in 31 states. But chances for that are slim.
After Newtown, we were supposed to have a national conversation about gun safety. But nobody’s talking about guns anymore. After Edward Snowden, President Obama proposed a national conversation about privacy. Nobody’s talking about privacy anymore, either. And now, after the Zimmerman trial, we’re supposed to have a national conversation about race? Sorry. We don’t have time. We’re too busy talking about the cover of Rolling Stone. Or the royal baby.