Trayvon Martin, from the evidence we can see so far, was not guilty of anything more than being an aimless child on his way home. His death at the hands of George Zimmerman, neighborhood watch captain for a Stanford Florida subdivision was tragic, but the resulting investigation of the shooting by local police would be considered a criminal offense but for the Florida “stand your ground” law. For U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to greenlight federal intervention by his agency, the Department of Justice, to perform an independent investigation of the Stanford police department’s actions in an election year environment as contentious as this one has become in and of itself an act of bravery.
But in a case where the shooter, George Zimmerman, has fallen into a new category of American citizen, this special new class of self-deputized lethal assailant who is not processed afterwards as a civilian shooter nor is required to undergo the kind of post shooting procedures that are standard protocol for law enforcement officers who discharge their weapons, any effort to properly investigate this incident begins at a serious disadvantage.
Numerouscases have set the precedent in Florida, with the courts arguing that the law “does not require defendant to prove self-defense to any standard measuring assurance of truth, exigency, near certainty, or even mere probability; defendant’s only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable.” When a defendant claims self-defense, “the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense.” In other words the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt never shifts from the prosecution, so it’s surprisingly easy to evade prosecution by claiming self-defense.
The likelihood of the Department of Justice or the FBI uncovering enough new evidence to get George Zimmerman to stand trial for this shooting is very slim. From a political calculus standpoint, this is a no-win situation for Holder, and by extension, the Obama Administration.
“It is the right thing to do”,however, as President Obama is fond of saying, and will no doubt be acknowledging about this particular investigation at some future press conference.
The Trayvon Martin story has been percolating at full boil among the African American end of the blogosphere for the last two weeks, an intraracial protest over the killing of an unarmed African American teenaged boy that has been every bit as prominent among my Twitter timeline as the never ending “Stop Kony” tweets. And until I remembered the real-life incident I experienced a few years ago in the next paragraph, I didn’t know if I had anything worthwhile to say about it.
I’ll never forget the time back in 2008, when I was a mortgage loan officer, when a black male co-worker of mine and I were in the office late. One of our co-workers, a middle aged white woman, stuck her head around the corner of my cubicle, and asked us if anyone else was still in the office. My black co-worker, who had grown up in Alabama, immediately scooted over to his desk, picked up his portfolio and said he was leaving. I followed him out into the lobby. “Hey man” I said, “I thought you had a couple more calls to make tonight.”
He looked at me, his eyes large and serious. “They can wait until tomorrow.”
“I thought you were trying to get those loans closed this month?”
It was his answer that flabbergasted me.
“Man, I’m not going to be in no office alone with no white women.”
“Dude, this is 2008. Are you serious?”
“My momma told me don’t put myself in no situation like that.”
Right off the bat, I was angry that a thirty five year old black man with two college degrees could even begin to believe that two black guys working late with white women co-workers in a business that traditionally kept late hours was problematic. But as I thought about it longer, I had to admit to myself that whether our tutelage was overt or subtle, practically all of us African American males over a certain age had been taught by our parents to beware of getting involved in interracial situations that put us at risk of being considered criminals.
After recalling this incident, a few questions came to mind.
At what point does the responsibility of African American parents to protect their children from the dangers of being stereotyped end and the rest of American society’s duty to see them as human beings who are as precious as their own children begin?
If the incarceration rate among young African American males were to drop by 50%, would the average American’s perception of young black men become more positive?
Are gun cultures the psychosomatic response of societies in which a sense of psychological impotence is rampant?
If the racial frame could be removed from this incident, would our news media have been willing to make the death of Trayvon Martin as much of a national story as the death of Caylee Anthony?