So much for the over-hyped notion of a post-racial America: It’s open season on black men.
Black America took an emotional gut punch Saturday night after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of racially profiling unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and then gunning him down on a rainy street on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida.
The jury’s mind-numbing verdict sends a clear message to America that the life of a black male teenager means absolutely nothing. Moreover, the judgment will forever change the discussion of race in this republic and further polarize Americans along racial lines even though President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, occupies the White House.
“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy,” Obama said in a statement Sunday. “Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.”
“We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities,” Obama said, weighing into the thorny issue of race. “We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.”
The president makes perfect sense, but as an African American man, I find this verdict particularly disturbing because every black man in America is a potential Trayvon Martin. In addition, the legitimate issue of racial profiling was summarily dismissed by jurors once they allowed Zimmerman to walk out of the courtroom.
What exactly was this jury’s message to black men? What are jurors telling my friend in Chicago who is raising three black boys? Or a mother of two black boys in St. Louis who told me she is “utterly horrified” by the verdict.
By acquitting Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges, the all-female jury of five whites and one Hispanic set a dangerous precedent by giving neighborhood watch captains and would-be cops the legal authority to stalk unarmed black men — and shoot them without fear of being jailed for using deadly force.
It means that some overzealous gun owners will undoubtedly use this verdict to justify profiling black men because they look suspicious, perhaps defy police orders to stand down, as Zimmerman did, shoot — even if black men are not carrying weapons — and then claim self-defense.
“Every American ought to be afraid that my child can do nothing wrong and can be killed,” Rev. Al Sharpton said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
While many black Americans are expressing shock and disbelief over the Zimmerman verdict, I, too, am outraged — but I’m not surprised.
And that’s a shame.
Sadly, Trayvon Martin’s family never had a chance to seek justice for their son once this jury was empaneled. During jury selection, I watched carefully while Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, skillfully found ways to dismiss any potential black jurors. He knew that stacking the jury with as many whites as possible may guarantee an acquittal for his client.
This was clearly not a jury of Trayvon Martin’s peers. There were no African Americans or men on the jury. There were no people on the jury who understood or cared about racial profiling or the challenges black men face just by walking through the streets of America.
There was no one on the jury who had the life experiences of a black man in America so how could anyone expect this jury to sympathize with Travyon Martin?