By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
The photographs were always horrifying: shirtless Black victims, their bodies bloodied, eyes bulging from their sockets. Of all the lynching photos Marshall had seen, though, it was the image of Rubin Stacy strung up by his neck in a Florida pine tree that haunted him most when he traveled at night into the south. It wasn’t the indentation of the rope that had cut into the flesh below the dead man’s chin, or even the bullet holes riddling his body, that caused Marshall, drenched now in sweat, to stir in his sleep. It was the virtually angelic faces of the White children, all of them dressed in their Sunday clothes, as they posed, grinning and smiling, in a semicircle around Rubin Stacy’s dangling corpse. In that horrid indifference to human suffering lay the legacy of another generation of White children, who, in turn, would, without conscience prolong the agony of an entire other race.
Excerpt from the prologue of Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, written by Gilbert King, published in 2013.
On July 16, 1949 in Groveland, Florida, four African-American men were falsely accused of raping a White woman. Gilbert King is a White author who wrote about the miscarriage of justice that led to the murder of three of those young men (one of them just 16 years old) in Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America.
Groveland, Florida is a half-an-hour drive away from Sanford, Florida where 17-year-old Trayvon Benjamin Martin was gunned down by Neighbourhood Watch volunteer “wannabe cop” George Zimmerman.
Even though over the past year Zimmerman and his family have tried to make him non-White, claiming all kinds of racially diverse backgrounds, he obviously enjoyed White skin privilege all his life. This was an attempt to nullify the “racial undertones” of the killing of the young Martin. Watching and listening to Zimmerman’s brother as he was interviewed several times before and after the verdict made that very clear to me.
Zimmerman was found not guilty of the second-degree murder charge and the hastily offered last minute manslaughter charge, which the prosecution extended on Friday, July 12 when they closed their arguments against Zimmerman.
He was found not guilty by a jury of his peers, five White women and one Hispanic woman. None of the jurors were the peers of the 17-year-old African-American, who was killed by Zimmerman on February 26, 2012.
The events of February 26, 2012 are very clear: Zimmerman, armed with a gun, stalked Martin, who was unarmed, and shot him dead. One has to wonder how much has changed in Florida since members of the “Groveland Four” were lynched by White men in the 20th century to the killing of Martin in the 21st century.
Although Zimmerman was tried in a court of law for the murder of Martin, he was found not guilty even of manslaughter by the jury. Many of us were stunned at the verdict. However, we should not have been surprised, given the history of violence against African-American men throughout North America and specifically in Florida.
In the 2013 book, The Beast in Florida: A History of Anti-Black Violence, African-American author Marvin Dunn writes:
“A Black male unwise – uppity – enough to believe, or even appear as if he believed, that he was more than a second-class citizen and had improved his prior station as ‘three-fifths of a person’ lived in mortal danger from the Beast of racism – a beast that was to prowl Florida for nearly a century.”
Is that what Zimmerman saw when Martin dared to walk through that Sanford neighbourhood which Zimmerman seemed to consider his turf? Did Zimmerman consider Martin “uppity” or “three-fifths of a person” and thought killing him would carry no consequences?
If so, he was partly correct in his assumptions because he suffered no consequences except for a few inconvenient months of scrutiny while Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton will never again see or hold their child.
I have spent the last two weeks immersed in the Zimmerman trial for the second-degree murder of Trayvon Benjamin Martin. Zimmerman was found not guilty but he is definitely not innocent of the killing of Martin.
Many questions remain in spite of the verdict rendered by the jury of five White women and one Hispanic woman. The choice of the jury members in itself was stunning and raised red flags for many of us who were watching or reading about the upcoming trial, which to my mind was a travesty.
How could the jury not understand that Zimmerman had no right to stop and question the 17-year-old African-American who was walking to the home where he was visiting with his father? How could the jury not understand that Zimmerman, who is not a member of any law enforcement organization, put himself above the law and counter to direct instructions (from the authorities) not to follow the African-American youth, did just that and ended up killing the child?
Why could the members of the jury not empathize with the prosecutor’s appeal/question that:
“Isn’t that every child’s worst nightmare, to be followed on the way home in the dark by a stranger? Isn’t that every child’s worst fear?”
Why did that heartfelt appeal not resonate with those five mothers? Many people have asked why those six women could not put themselves in the place of a grieving mother who merely sought justice for her dead child, killed by a vigilante Neighbourhood Watch volunteer.
Maybe they could not because their children are not African-American and the victim was. And this state of mind most likely goes back to that quote from Gilbert King’s Pulitzer Prize winning Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, when he wrote:
“In that horrid indifference to human suffering lay the legacy of another generation of White children, who, in turn, would, without conscience prolong the agony of an entire other race.”
The jury has been praised by the two White men who defended Zimmerman because they rendered a verdict favourable to their client. Zimmerman’s lawyers declared that their client at no point showed ill will, hatred or spite during his confrontation with Martin.
They ignored the fact that Zimmerman killed the unarmed 17-year-old. Don West, one of Zimmerman’s lawyers, said:
“The prosecution of George Zimmerman was a disgrace.”
However, those two men did not stop there. They vilified the prosecution and in one instance, the African-American community. Mark O’Mara declared that if his client was African-American, he would not have been charged.
I had to wonder what world O’Mara was living in. Does he really think that if a 28-year-old African-American man had followed a 17-year-old White male and shot and killed him, he would not have been arrested? Zimmerman appointed himself judge, jury and executioner of an unarmed African-American youth.
Zimmerman violated the rules of what a Neighbourhood Watch volunteer should do, which is observe (watch and listen) and call the police, not act out as a vigilante and accost and kill someone after racially profiling that person.
All the evidence in the case pointed to the fact that there was a dead child who was unarmed when he was confronted and killed by a man armed with a gun. Zimmerman killed Martin and he has been freed. Zimmerman can again carry a concealed weapon. With Zimmerman’s acquittal, what message does this send?
The verdict rendered by the jury seems to suggest that killing an unarmed African-American has no consequences. Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin sat through the nightmare of listening to and watching the trial of the man who killed their child. They were dignified throughout the ordeal of the cameras capturing almost every moment of their grief as they heard two White men defend the indefensible and inexcusable actions of another who killed their unarmed child.
They listened as their child’s terrified screams for help was played repeatedly. They listened as a doctor explained that their child suffered indescribable pain for possibly 10 minutes as the blood drained from his heart until there was no life left in his body. Those two parents never verbalized their pain, their grief, their understandable anger as they sat through the testimony of dozens of witnesses.
Now this family (including Trayvon Martin’s older brother) is left with the memories of their loved one who is no longer with them and the fact that there has been no justice for Trayvon Martin in the Florida justice system.