Finding Racism in Zimmerman’s Acquital: You Don’t Have to Look That Hard

abcOn the evening of February 26, 2012 a neighborhood “watch” coordinator  by the name of George Zimmerman shot and killed a young black man by the name of Trayvon Martin in a gated community in Florida.  On July 13, 2013 a jury acquitted Zimmerman of all charges essentially declaring that he’d done nothing illegal.

The facts of this case are well known to most people. Zimmerman spotted Martin walking within the gated community and concluded that he was hooligan up to no good. He got out of his car and pursued Martin, they got into a fight, and Zimmerman used his gun to settle the matter.

There is no shortage of commentary or debate  regarding this case but I think one question stands out: What role if any did racism have in this tragic event?

There are actually two tragic events here, one is the killing of Trayvon Martin, and the other is the trial process that led to Zimmerman’s acquittal. I think racism was present in both tragedies, but it may surprise you to hear that I think it’s easier to confirm in the trial process.

There are two types of racism involved here, one is personal Zimmerman’s, the other institutional, the trial process.

Zimmerman’s racism is the more difficult of the two to confirm but I think it’s more likely than not that Zimmerman was making judgments about Trayvon based on racial profiling. We know that Trayvon was simply walking home from a convenience store and Zimmerman made an series of bogus assumptions. Zimmerman thought Trayvon looked like he was up to no good, maybe on drugs, and one of “those assholes” who always gets away, all wrong. While Zimmerman never actually says anything about the man’s race, all we have to do is ask ourselves whether or not Zimmerman would have made the same assumptions about a white man wearing a Polo shirt or a white woman in a jogging outfit? Trayvon was wearing a “hoodie” and it’s true that anyone can wear a hoodie, but we have to pretend that stereotypes don’t exist in order to conclude that Zimmerman was making no racial assumptions. Then we have to ask whether or not Zimmerman would have made the same bogus assumptions about a black man wearing a Polo shirt instead of a hoodie? We know that Zimmerman is a prejudiced observer. Despite the fact Trayvon was simply walking home Zimmerman describes him as suspicious: “wandering around looking about”. When Trayvon runs Zimmerman assumes this confirms his guilt and pursues him. We know racial profiling is a reality within law enforcement. However we have to assume it doesn’t exist in order to conclude that a wannabe cop acting as self-appointed security guard wasn’t profiling Trayvon.  We’ve had multiple cases all over the US of police officers profiling and killing unarmed black and Hispanic males. Ironically, if Zimmerman were actually a cop, we’d more likely to recognize his behavior as racial profiling.

While it’s true that we can’t “know” what Zimmerman was thinking, we can draw a strong inference. With the trial process we can actually know how and why the system produced the acquittal.  This actually makes it easier to confirm racism in the legal process.

Florida has a “Stand Your Ground” law that allows deadly force whenever and wherever a person thinks or “feels” like their life is in danger. However a catch 22 is built into the legal system.  In order to conclude one way or the other whether nor not Zimmerman thought  his life was in danger, he’d have to testify. The problem is we cannot compel the testimony of criminal defendants, Zimmerman never took the stand. This all but guarantees reasonable doubt in the trial process because no one else can testify as to what Zimmerman thought or felt. The law does not allow inference in this matter, we have to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt and that’s impossible without Zimmerman’s testimony. This is why so many legal observers keep saying the jury had no choice.

So where does the Racism come into view? The racism reveals itself when realize that we have a system that gives an obscure epistemological fact more weight than common sense. We have a system that makes an unknowable fact, Zimmerman’s state of mind, the deciding factor in Trayvon’s death. This is actually illogical, it guarantees a failure of justice.

Zimmerman is not a police officer, or even a rent-a-cop security guy. What business does he have pursuing “suspicious” people around the community in the first place? What was Zimmerman going to do, detain Trayvon until the cops got there? He had no authority to do that. Trayvon ran, and at one point lost Zimmerman yet somehow the two ended up in a fight. That could only happen one of two ways, either Zimmerman pursued and caught Trayvon, or Trayvon inexplicably turned around and decided to find and attack Zimmerman, according Zimmerman himself that’s not what happened. We know Zimmerman actually caught up to Trayvon after a pursuit. This means that  Zimmerman’s initial decision to observe and follow Trayvon led to the confrontation, yet that fact is considered to be legally irrelevant in this process. Why?

Here’s the thing: the only way we can as human beings ignore Zimmerman’s culpability is if we assume that Trayvon is responsible for his own death. How can Trayvon be responsible for his own death? Basically he refused to recognize Zimmerman’s authority and submit to it. THAT’S where the racism enters the equation. In fact Zimmerman had no legitimate authority whatsoever. He’s just another guy wandering around the neighborhood, he’s not a cop, nor is he security. It’s clear the jury in this case, and I know there were black women on the jury, made decisions based on Trayvon’s behavior, not Zimmerman’s. We have to ask why they did that?  

According to at least one juror Trayvon was partially responsible for his own death because instead reacting to Zimmerman as if he were a cop or security, Trayvon reacted to Zimmerman as if he was just another guy, possibly even an assailant. The problem with Trayvon is he acted like a white male instead of a black male.  Would we expect that a white male would submit to Zimmerman’s non-existent authority and do what? Present some kind of ID and explain why he was walking through his own neighborhood on the way to his own home? Would a white male be interrogated by Zimmerman or detained until the cops arrived? Presumably this is what Trayvon needed to do in order to save his life. The only survivable outcome here would have been for Trayvon to run into his house or submit to Zimmerman’s interrogation and detention.  The problem is for all Trayvon knew Zimmerman was a thug posing as some kind of neighborhood watch guy.  And remember, Trayvon is not required to retreat, he’s allowed to stand his ground as well.  We would not expect a white male to either run  away or submit to Zimmerman’s non-existent authority. Look, all that really happened here is Trayvon stood his ground, and he got killed for doing so. Zimmerman got off because black men aren’t supposed to run from danger or stand their ground, they’re supposed lie on the ground with their hands behind their heads.

The jury could have convicted Zimmerman of involuntary manslaughter. According to Florida Law: 

To establish involuntary manslaughter, the prosecutor must show that the defendant acted with “culpable negligence.” Florida statutes define culpable negligence as a disregard for human life while engaging in wanton or reckless behavior.  The state may be able to prove involuntary manslaughter by showing the defendant’s recklessness or lack of care when handling a dangerous instrument or weapon, or while engaging in a range of other activities that could lead to death if performed recklessly.” Findlaw.com

How is it NOT a dangerous and reckless activity for an armed man with no legal authority to pursue what he considers to be a dangerous criminal, by himself, through a residential area at night? Is a man carrying a gun NOT handling a dangerous instrument or weapon? A civilian with a gun chasing people through a neighborhood at night contrary to police advice is inherently dangerous and reckless with predictably BAD outcomes; yet this was not judged to be Culpable Negligence resulting in Manslaughter. Why?

This question was never raised because racist assumptions put Trayvon on Trial instead of Zimmerman and Florida’s legal process allowed it. Trayvon was standing outside his house, Zimmerman was practically in Trayvon’s back yard, yet it was Zimmerman who was standing his ground?  Trayvon’s behavior as a black man blinded the jury to Zimmerman’s behavior as a vigilante. What if Trayvon had been legally carrying a gun and shot Zimmerman out of fear for his life? Who would’ve gone on trial? What if Trayvon had been white and shot Zimmerman out of fear for his life? Would there have even been a trial? Trust your instincts, we know who would have been on trial in these different scenarios, and we know why.  That’s the second tragedy and it may be the bigger of the two  because it’s likely to be repeated and it tells us that racism is built into the system.        

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5 Responses to Finding Racism in Zimmerman’s Acquital: You Don’t Have to Look That Hard

  1. Sam Chapirson says:

    Paul I have to tell you reading this blog is disturbing. Disturbing because of the hypocrisy. You talk about Zimmerman’s “assumptions” but you use your own “assumptions” and bias in addressing them. You say he had no legal authority to follow someone in his community who he felt was acting suspicious. The fact is there is no law that precludes anyone from following and or questioning someone they feel is acting suspiciously. You mentioned that he is clearly a racist because he felt that Travon was suspicious merely because he was black and what he was wearing, that is clearly your assumption based on your own bias because no evidence was ever presented to support that assumption. In fact to the contrary evidence was presented that there had been multiple burglaries by young black males in that community recently. Lets say that again, young black males were suspected in several recent burglaries, not white males in polo shirts. Does that mean every black male should be assumed to be a criminal? Of course not but it does narrow the possible pool of suspects and if a neighborhood watch person see’s someone they don’t know that roughly fits the description of recent suspects they certainly can call the police and if they are comfortable to do so are within their rights to follow and or approach and question the person. Would I suggest this action? Not in todays world where someone can be a violent criminal or have a weapon but he has the right to do so if opts to. As far as Trayvon being culpable for his death I believe he was and my reasoning is simple and basic. Given the evidence presented and the statements by Zimmerman and the witnesses and the police officers who interviewed Zimmerman and testified that they believed his version of events, Trayvon attacked Zimmerman physically because Zimmerman followed him and asked him what he was doing. You do not have the right to physically assault someone for following you or for asking you questions. Trayvon could have called 911 he chose not to. He could have gone home he chose not to. He could have told Zimmerman he was walking home from the store he chose not to. He could have told Zimmerman it was none of his business and continued home, he chose not to. Instead according to the evidence presented he started a physical altercation and slammed Zimmerman’s head on the concrete. By laws on the book that is a crime and the first crime that was commited which led to his death. Is there racism in the world absolutely. Was Zimmerman acquited because of it? No he didn’t need racism to be acquited he had the law on his side. I would argue that where racism was most evident was in the actual decision to prosecute and the charges that were choosen. Had the prosecution not folded to a rascist narrative of a black boy shot down in cold blood by a white rascist they could have charged with a lessor offence and they may have gotten a conviction. However they chose to charge him with murder because thats what fit the narrative being bandied about by the media, the president, and activists in clear conflict with the actual facts of the case.

    • Paul Udstrand says:

      Sam,

      Thanks for your comment. I just have three points to make.

      First, I don’t deny I’m making assumptions, the jury also made assumptions, Zimmerman made assumptions. The question isn’t whether or not we make assumptions, the question is whether not our assumptions are reasonable.

      Second, yes evidence was presented that crimes had been committed by black males. That actually confirms that Zimmerman was racially profiling Trayvon. Zimmerman did NOT witness a crime and Trayvon was NOT engaged in any criminal or even suspicious activity whatsoever. This means the only reason Zimmerman had to assume Trayvon was a criminal was that he was a black male. That’s why it’s called “profiling”.

      Finally, you’re correct, the law doesn’t prevent you from questioning fellow citizens. However the law does prohibit reckless behavior. You can legally drive a car for instance, but if you do so recklessly and kill someone it’s Vehicular Manslaughter. Zimmerman acted recklessly and it resulted Trayon’s death. Furthermore legal authority is not irrelevant, you can follow and question people, but they are not required to respond to you as if your a police officer. For instance it would be perfectly legal for Trayvon to stand there and lie to Zimmerman all night long. It’s actually against the law to lie to a police officer. We have police officers for a reason, and vigilantism is against the law for a reason.

      As to the fight itself, YOU’RE assuming that Zimmerman’s version of the event’s is accurate and reliable. I remind you, Zimmerman never gave his version under oath on the witness stand under cross examination. We don’t know who started the fight. What we DO know is had Zimmerman not pursued Trayvon the confrontation would have been impossible. The fight is actually irrelevant. It’s kind of like arguing who’s car struck who’s car first after someone ran a red light. Had Zimmerman not been engaged in vigilantism Trayvon would have been home watching TV instead of dead in his back yard.

      • Sam Chapirson says:

        First reasonable is open to interpretation. Your reasonable obviously doesnt jibe with what the Jury felt was reasonable. Perhaps thats because you do not live in that community perhaps it is based out of an individuals assumptions.

        Second you can say Zimmerman didnt witness a Martin commit a crime however you cannot say for a fact that Martin did not appear suspicious or that the only reason Zimmerman followed him was that he was black. That would be an assumption on your part based on YOUR biases unless your aware of what was going through Zimmerman’s mind at the time of the event.

        Finally I wouldn’t qualify following someone as reckless behaviour. He was behaving in a rational manor watching out for his neighbors and his neighborhood like all people should do. By your reasoning if I witness someone I feel is acting suspicious at my workplace I would be acting reckless if I was to approach them ask them if I could help them in order to ascertain what they were doing. We have the right and responsibility to watch out for neighbors and neighborhoods. You are correct it would have been perfectly legal for Martin to stand there and lie. It would have also been legal for him to tell Zimmerman to bug off and continue on his way. What is not legal is to assault someone. Again the first crime that was commited.

        I’m not ASSUMING anything. If you reread what I wrote I referred to Zimmerman’s account and the evidence that was provided to support it and the testimony of two police officers that believed it. Its a tragic situation but the fact is that one could easily say that had Martin not chosen to assault Zimmerman he would have also been at home watching television. Should Zimmerman have kept his distance and waited for the police? Absolutely. But I’m tired of people ascribing their own beliefs and biases on Zimmerman and or Martin. In my humble opinion what happened was the result of two people making bad decisions. Is that criminal? Possibly but there was no intent so it isnt murder and was only charged as murder because of pressure from those that see everything through the prism of color. I’m tired of people saying Martin was shot “in cold blood” for no other reason then that he was black. It completely ignores the physical evidence and the statements of people that were actually there. The jury found that the evidence supported that Martin was shot in the heat of a physical confrontation in which Zimmerman was having his head pounded on the pavement. Its that simple.

        By the way neighborhood watch is not synonimous with vigilanti. You may not think that it is ok watch out for your neighbors and neighborhood but I and many people do. The police cannot be everywhere and ultimately people watching out for each other is a far better deterent to crime then sitting in your house saying “thats what the police are for”.

        Oh and by the way to address your assertion that if Zimmerman were black and Trayvon white “Trust your instincts, we know who would have been on trial in these different scenarios, and we know why. That’s the second tragedy and it may be the bigger of the two because it’s likely to be repeated and it tells us that racism is built into the system.” Take a look at the following link and tell me how certain you are.

        http://rochester.ynn.com/content/top_stories/490926/jury-finds-roderick-scott-not-guilty/

        • Paul Udstrand says:

          Sam,

          Quickly, I’ll let readers make their own judgments regarding our assumptions. You ARE making variety of your own assumptions.

          As for Trayvon’s “suspicious behavior, we was walking while black, that’s it. Yes, Zimmerman thought that was suspicious, but Zimmerman demonstrated extremely poor judgement on a variety of levels so his expertise on “suspicious” behavior is not beyond question. The fact is Zimmerman mistook one of his neighbors for a burglar, why would you trust his judgement regarding suspicious behavior?

          Let’s talk about this workplace example; would it be “reckless and dangerous” to ask someone in the workplace who they are and what they’re doing? Maybe not. But it would be reckless to grab a loaded gun and chase someone around the work place in the dark. Zimmerman wasn’t protecting his community, he put his community in unnecessary danger, unless you consider killing one of your neighbors an act of protection? Trayvon WAS his neighbor you know.

          Zimmerman was not merely “watching”, Treyvon isn’t dead because Zimmerman was watching him.

          Finally, I don’t mind if you complain about anything I say, but you’re complaining about a lot of stuff in your last comment that someone else said somewhere else. No one here said anything about cold blooded killing for instance.

  2. “The problem with Trayvon is he acted like a white male, instead of a black male. ” Brilliantly stated.

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