The surreal coverage of the Trayvon Martin killing these last 24 hours seems like an episode of Law and Order. We are now at the point in the show when Briscoe and Curtis, my favorite detective pairing of the series, is about to arrest the perpetrator, who in our real life story is being played by one George Zimmerman. If this was an episode of the long running legal drama/police procedural series, the show’s writers would devise a narrative for the second half of the show in which the killer was convicted, even if the facts were hazy and the applicable laws leaned in favor of the accused.
But this is not a TV show.
Absent a full confession from Mr. Zimmerman which he acknowledges that he engaged Martin as the aggressor in the incident and at no time felt that his life was in danger, it is highly unlikely that the special prosecutor assigned to this case can do much more than have him arrested and arraigned. Zimmerman’s two former attorney’s seem to be as hapless as they come, but even these two clowns could have won this case because there was next to no evidence collected by the Sanford Police Department and there are no eye witnesses to refute Zimmerman’s account of what happened.
This incident will loom over the psyche of Americans much longer than any legal jeopardy that Mr. Zimmerman is likely to endure, mostly because it reveals that we are not who we think we are as a nation when it comes to how we see each other. Talking about race makes most Americans uncomfortable. But we never seem to want to talk about race in this country until there is a crisis, when various factions of the population are highly emotionally charged and there is some ambiguity as to what actually happened.
Americans divide along racial lines on the Travyon Martin shooting, with blacks overwhelmingly calling it unjustified while whites are more apt to withhold judgment. But few in either group are ready to see the fatal shooting of the unarmed Florida teenager as justified.
Those views reflect other differences between the races in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. Blacks are more apt than whites to oppose “stand your ground” laws allowing the use of deadly force in response to threatening situations. And blacks very broadly feel that racial minorities receive unequal treatment in the criminal justice system; whites divide on this. eye witnesses to dispute Zimmerman’s assertion that he was “standing his ground.”
As much as it will ultimately hurt when George Zimmerman goes free, this will remain nothing more than a tragic sideshow if African Americans in Florida don’t organize in meaningful ways in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin murder.
If African American males do not register to vote in Florida in record numbers, this will have been a sideshow. If minorities do not obtain photo ID’s in the next five months in record numbers to offset the effect of the new voter ID laws, this senseless killing will have truly gone for naught.
White supremacists in pickup trucks, even the ones carrying guns, are not half as scary or as dangerous when it comes to the well being of African Americans as their more innocuous looking brethren who populate state legislatures all across the country, pushing laws like Stand Your Ground and Surrender Your Uterus.
Striking fear in the heart of your oppressors, both real and imagined, begins and ends at the ballot box, with a generous helping of political organizing in between.