Over on Mobtownblues, Kevin Griffin Moreno cops to being George Zimmerman. Thankfully, he’s not: when feeling threatened in a recent situation with racial overtones, he chose to walk away, but it is worth asking how different we are from the characters of this tragedy.
I never had much expectation that the trial of Trayvon Martin’s killer would find him guilty. A good team of lawyers can conjure up reasonable doubt over most anything. As as Alafair Burke writes on Huffington, much of what Zimmerman did was protected by Florida’s insanely-crazy “stand your ground” laws.
But even without that, high-profile court cases get so politicized so quickly that they rarely provide any kind of catharsis, let alone justice, when stacked against hundreds of years of racial injustices. And just as Zimmerman’s judgement was colored by his racial history and biases, so too are ours: our opinions about what happened that evening in Sanford, Florida, are much more a reaction to where we fall in the continuums of privileges than we might care to admit.
Privilege is unearned opportunities conferred by how closely we fit a particular stereotype. When I was in my early 20s, I was once pulled over by a policeman when I was driving aimlessly through a sleepy town at 3 am (no good story I’m afraid: I was simply bored, with insomnia). He visibly eased up when he saw I was white, and he got almost avuncular a minute later when he saw the Irish name on my drivers license. I know that almost-forgettable instant could have played out quite differently if I had been black, with a Muslim name, perhaps, and a chip on my shoulder because this was the fifth time that month I had gotten detained for no good reason.
No matter what I do to educate myself, I will always be George Zimmerman to (many) strangers on the street, just as Trayvon Martin will always be a suspicious house burgler for being a black stranger in a hoodie.
The work that needs to be done – or continued, for we need to remember the many times people have done the right thing – couldn’t be answered by a criminal trial anyway. What’s needed is the education of society at large.
One step is all of the conversations taking place on Facebook and around water coolers this week. Let’s talk about the fears that subconsciously drive us. For Zimmerman’s gun was only one of the triggers that killed Martin. It was fear that gave us Sanford’s gated community and its town watch, along with our nation’s permissive gun laws and draconian legal concepts like “standing one’s ground.” It was that potent mix of suspicion that set in motion a situation that left a seventeen year old kid with a pocketful of Skittles lying dead face down in the grass.
Can we learn to understand the ways we live in fear? Can we get to know one another more deeply in that place that breaks down the gates in our hearts?