It does not matter that George Zimmerman is not white.
Hypothetical Story based on the Trayvon Martin Case: A 17 year old black teen was murdered while walking home from a convenience store with ice tea and a bag of Skittles. The suspect, a 28 year old male, was arrested and is in police custody awaiting trial.
Stories similar to the one above happen frequently and tragically in cities across America. Yet few have garnered as much national and international attention as the Trayvon Martin case. Why? Is it because an innocent black teen was murdered by a racist? No. What if Trayvon had been murdered by a thief, or a gang member, or a serial killer? The story would still be tragic. Trayvon would still be dead, murdered senselessly on his return from the store. But the world would not be in such an uproar and racial tensions would not be as high.
Some Americans have made it their mission to inform all of us that reports of a white male killing Trayvon are inaccurate. These Americans state it is a smear against white people, to inflame racial tensions and produce a narrative that does not exist. To their credit, it is important to get the facts straight. “George Zimmerman” does not sound much like a Hispanic name, however photos of the man certainly resemble a person with Hispanic features. Add to that the family of George Zimmerman emerging to inform us that George is not white, and these Americans are right in their correction.
So facts matter. Getting the truth right matters. But whether George is white or not has little to do with the uproar from the black community and the accusations of racism and injustice. In the example I initially provided, the unarmed teen victim was killed and the murder suspect was arrested. But that is not what happened in the Trayvon Martin case. Trayvon the unarmed teen was killed, but the suspect, George Zimmerman, walks free with his gun in hand.
National and international uproar, the shouts of injustice, the Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton appearances, the Obama remarks, the Miami Heat tributes, the intense anger particularly in the black community are not merely due to a racist murdering a black teen, but that racist walking free after the murder. George was not found “not guilty” by a jury and set free, he was set free by the police who took his word at the crime scene and let him go home with his gun.
So where does race play in this? Where does the black and white tension come from if Zimmerman wasn’t even white? The tension is found in the double standard, the signs of second class citizenry that appear blatantly obvious to the black community. It is a double standard that values the lives of white Americans more than black Americans and it has existed since this nation’s founding.
No one believes that a big black George Zimmerman would walk free without arrest. No one believes his testimony would be trusted by the police, especially when he pursued the teen after a 911 dispatcher told him not to. No one believes that a small white Trayvon Martin would be drug tested before the suspect, or assumed to be the aggressor by the police. No one believes the family of a white Trayvon Martin would be lied to about the history of the murder suspect by the police, or that a white family would face trust issues concerning the quality of investigation by the police.
No one believes a black George Zimmerman with a history of assault on a police officer, domestic violence, and resisting arrest would have any advocates in law enforcement supporting his claims of self defense. This is a nation that recently executed Troy Davis. This is a nation that sentenced John White on second degree manslaughter charges. John was arrested for accidentally shooting a white teenager who came with a group of his friends as a “lynch mob” to White’s property at midnight to threaten him and his family with violence and racial slurs. John White went to jail, Zimmerman has not been arrested. Police arrested Professor Henry Louis Gates for “breaking into his own property” when he forgot his key.
No need to list the history of injustices suffered by black Americans at the hands of the police. A simple google search will yield around 30 million results.
This is a tragic reality that appears unique and persistent to black Americans. The beating of Kelly Thomas by Fullerton police was so rare that for some white Americans it was a light bulb moment that they too might be vulnerable. Pepper spray on Occupy protestors or the arrest of the “Don’t Taze me Bro” pale in comparison to the shooting deaths of Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham, the Rodney King beating, and many other black tragedies. Couple those tragedies with the fears of driving while black, fitting the description, excessive force and police brutality, having drugs planted on you, Katrina murders by police, etc. and the Trayvon Martin case is another stab to an open wound.
So these fears have plagued the black community for years, decades, and generations. But the Trayvon Martin case is not a case of a abuse where Trayvon was a suspect. The Trayvon Martin case is a case of abuse where Trayvon was the victim. The UNARMED VICTIM received injustice. The VICTIM cries from his grave while his killer goes about his life freely without arrest. And even this has sad historical precedents; Emmett Till, Shirley Sherrod’s father, etc.
So if this is mainly a case of outrage over police injustice with the black community, where does the white-black tension lie? Please note, when I mention “white-black tension” I am not saying the Trayvon Martin case has sparked a hatred against white Americans by black Americans. I am saying that it intensifies the contrast in justice, freedom, safety and security, the contrast of protection under the law between the experiences of white Americans and black Americans once again. That is where the racial tension lies. It lies in the constant reminder that black Americans who built this nation are once again denied the rights, securities, and privileges guaranteed to all Americans and enjoyed by white Americans.
Yes Zimmerman appears to be a racist, and that’s awful. But if the police and justice system in Florida did not also appear to have racial biases, this national uproar would not have happened. It is naive of us to think that the election of Barack Obama has or can fix everything. The Trayvon Martin case is like re-injuring an old wound once again that never seems to heal. And Zimmerman’s ethnic make up does little to distract or comfort from the perceived and blatant double standard of justice for Trayvon and black Americans.