By PATRICK HUNTER
A 17-year-old unarmed young man was shot to death for the simple reason that he was walking while Black in his neighbourhood, after buying a snack and going home, chatting with a friend on his cell phone.
One man was charged with murder and went on trial. There was no debate about the fact that George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. It was acknowledged. What was in dispute was whether Trayvon Martin’s death came as a result of self-defence.
Zimmerman was acquitted. The jury, during its deliberations, sought clarification on manslaughter. In its eyes, the evidence did not fit any degree of murder. It did not fit manslaughter. So, the alternative was to acquit.
To its credit, the George Zimmerman defence team excelled, particularly in its jury selection. It managed to empanel jurors who they could sway into thinking that the act was done in self-defence, even with an unarmed teen against an armed civilian. In all probability, this outcome will grant its members unprecedented fame and future accused will come calling to engage their services.
On the other side of the coin, the family of Trayvon Martin has lost a son. If it were a situation that Trayvon was a constant troublemaker in his neighbourhood, the pain, perhaps, would be less. But, the reports suggest that Trayvon was just like any other normal kid. His future was abruptly cut short for no other apparent reason than he was Black.
There are very painful implications here. We in Toronto are not oblivious to them. It suggests, quite frankly, that the lives of Black people, and particularly Black male youth, are not valued – or are valued less than others.
It reminds us that 200 years after the so-called abolition of slavery and, much later, the supposed constitutional recognition of Blacks as persons, the Black person’s life is still worth less than others.
We have been reminded of this repeatedly. There are frequent stories, especially out of the United States, where Blacks who have committed lesser crimes are given sentences which far outweigh the crimes they have committed. One of the stories that resurfaced on Facebook over the past few days was of a Black woman, in Florida, who last year was denied the “Stand Your Ground” defence after firing warning shots at her abusive husband. She was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison – 20 years.
George Zimmerman gets no years in prison for killing an unarmed teen.
The United States was born, in part, to an aggressive colonization of the west, displacing by violent means the Native Americans who occupied those territories. The claims of the invading Whites were largely protected by their own laws which gave them the right to protect themselves, by any means necessary.
We are also familiar with frequent lynching, particularly of Black men, with impunity, for no other crime than the fact that they were Black.
Today, many states in the U.S. have laws which, in one way or another, recognize this standard of self-defence known as “Stand Your Ground”. Implicit in the legislation, it appears, is that it is more justified for White people than Blacks. One could cynically interpret it as another law against Blacks.
There is a lot of anger here. I know that it is anger shared by many, not just Blacks. There is a lot that is wrong about this scenario. What is worse is that we, across the board, appear powerless to change it.
One would think that after the tragic events at Sandy Hook in Connecticut, for instance, the attachment to guns would be lessened to the point where there would almost be universal action to restrict the possession of guns. Apparently, not even that was enough.
The unfortunate and most painful part of this tragedy is that there will be more Trayvon Martins, accompanied by the painful reality that individuals will be exonerated for the crimes they have committed.
But, there is another factor in this scenario that is worth mentioning. The shooting of Jane Creba and the investigations that followed were a very big deal in the media as it was for the Toronto Police Service. Chantel Dunn, a young Black woman, was killed under similar circumstances, yet we wonder if the investigation continues. The media has paid very little attention to this fact, and one has to wonder whether the police share the same view – she was Black so it is not as important.
I know some White people are clueless in understanding why Black people can be so angry. Well, think about this: after centuries of being denied your humanity and, even when you are supposedly accepted as human, you are treated systemically as less than human, you need to let off some of the anger you are suppressing.