A Culture of Fear Acquitted: A Rational Explanation Of Why Zimmerman’s Acquittal Is Bothersome

In the last 24 hours I’ve had two people, one in person and the other via facebook, ask me to explain my perspective on the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case. As one of them put it, “You are using a rational approach to expressing the same thing I have seen expressed much less rationally but still do not understand.” I imagine there are others of you who are struggling to understand why people—in particular, black-Americans—are at the least disheartened and at the most enraged that George Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder as well as the lesser charge of manslaughter.

First let me clarify that I totally understand why George Zimmerman was acquitted. In a case with no other witnesses aside from Zimmerman it is extremely difficult to provide substantial evidence that he was lying, omitting facts or details, or otherwise twisting the truth. The justice system worked the way it is supposed to. Zimmerman was innocent until proven guilty and the prosecution had very little to work with. I am not God nor do I presume to be. The problem I have is: in a way, someone or something else was acquitted right along with Zimmerman. In the minds of myself and many others racial profiling aimed at black men was excused as well.

It was bad enough that black men have had to be concerned about being profiled and pulled over by police or profiled by security in malls and stores. Now the outcome of this trial has now a green light for civilians to profile pursue and detain black men they deem suspicious. We know better than to get mouthy or defend ourselves against police officers and security personnel, even though we’ve done nothing wrong. The outcome of this trial means that in at least 25 states with Stand Your Ground Laws, we can no longer defend ourselves against civilians who would find us—as we say—“under the suspicion of being black” and attempt to question or even detain us. That is where we feel the justice system failed us. That is where we feel the sting of inequality.

There are some making genuine attempts to look at this case objectively who would balk at my assessment because it is rooted in my and others personal experiences of being profiled. Many would suspect us of playing the race card and allowing our paranoia of racism and prejudice to shape our interpretation of these events and experiences. Many don’t understand why we assume that the interaction between Zimmerman and Martin was racially motivated occurrence. However, it’s not just black people who are greatly concerned about what the verdict of this trial means for racial profiling. There is a growing generation of white-Americans who have skin in the game.

Here is a snippet of what a friend, who is white, posted as they tried to sort through their emotions, “Right now I’m teaching all four of my children to fight back, scream for help, bite, kick or whatever they need to do to resist an attacker. But one day, when they’re older, I need to tell two of them to do the opposite, and not defend themselves because it’s too dangerous. Two of my sons are black so I’ve been reading and listening for years to black parents—who’ve lived through profiling by police, store clerks and their neighbors—that I need to teach my twins as they mature NOT to resist or fight even if they’ve done nothing wrong because it’s too dangerous. They must completely submit lest someone decide to issue their own form of justice and end their lives because they look ‘suspicious’.”

Let me reiterate I am not God nor do I presume to be. I don’t know anymore than anyone else whether or not George Zimmerman’s account of what happened that night is completely true or a lie. Nor do I presume to know what the intentions of his heart were that day. In a lot of ways, this isn’t even about Zimmerman and Trayvon anymore. Our society has packaged sold and promoted an image of black men that is overwhelmingly negative and brews fear, mistrust and suspicion. I am sure of this because I have even found myself to be suspicious of black men for no other reason than they were black all in the name of being safe. It’s an awful feeling to realize that you would be suspicious of yourself if you saw you in a different part of town and dressed differently. Popular media such as music, movies, TV shows and especially the ten o’clock news anywhere near an urban area reinforces the message that black men are a menace to society. I had a sinking feeling about the verdict not because I was convinced that Zimmerman was guilty, but because I felt as though the justice system acquitted a culture that says I’m a menace and suspicious. I feel as though the justice system justified the people who stare and keep an eye on me when I’m out with my wife or out in public with students in my youth ministry (just about all of whom are white). And that is why many of us who are fathers, mothers, wives, sons and daughters, neighbors and co-workers of black men are concerned about what this verdict means. It justified the caricature of black men in pop culture that is one of the root causes of the suspicion people have about them.

Author: Token Confessions

Perpetual Seekers of Solidarity with God through sharing in the life death and resurrection of Jesus The Christ Pastors and Communicator Shepherd Business Owners Coffee Lovers, Snobs, and Roaster Sports fan but too rational to be a fanatic Sons, Brothers, Friends, Husbands, and Fathers

7 thoughts on “A Culture of Fear Acquitted: A Rational Explanation Of Why Zimmerman’s Acquittal Is Bothersome”

  1. Ced, I have a very hard time trying to come up with the words that will articulate my position on this issue without having people rain down on me from either side. First of all, from a completely legal standpoint, Zimmerman was not guilty of the charges laid upon him because the prosecution could not possibly prove any of it. It was an absolute idiotic move if you were trying to get a conviction. It was never going to happen. And the media should have done their job and explain that to the public who was very charged up over this case. They did not explain properly the legal situation that any person with half a brain or actually understood the law in any way could have told you. They knew what the verdict would be, but did nothing to explain it was a failure on the prosecution’s part. They continued to drum up hysteria on racial lines and make convictions in the court of public opinion and did not do due diligence of properly informing the viewers of the FACTS. From a culpability standpoint, he is not innocent. There was an obvious profiling going on (racial or otherwise). That being said, there is a culpability to be placed upon Trayvon as well. He also profiled Zimmerman; who’s mother is Peruvian and looks much more hispanic than white as a “creepy-ass cracker”. Should Zimmerman have followed him after the dispatcher told him not to? No. Should Trayvon have confronted him instead of running home? No. After that point, I don’t think anyone can honestly say that there is clear evidence that Zimmerman did not have the legal right to shoot Trayvon based on Zimmerman’s and eyewitness testimony. There is no evidence to contradict that Trayvon did not have Zimmerman in a position where he was justifiably scared for his life. Again, I say that Zimmerman is culpable ,in part, of getting into this situation leading up to the shooting, but there is no way it can be considered murder. Your best case would be wrongful death, but I still can see any provable evidence. Nothing he did, based on provable testimony, was lawfully wrong. However, it was tremendously stupid and tragic.

    Now, to the matter of excusing racial profiling. The issue for me (and I’m sure that many will hate me for saying it, but I feel that you know me well enough that, even if you disagree, you can understand my position) is this: Blacks with never be able to overcome racial profiling (or at least drastically reduce because there will always be racists) until they figure out how not become victims of it. It can only be fixed from within. There is nothing the government, whites, schools, police departments, etc. can do for them to remove the stigmas that they themselves have allowed to perpetuate. What has happened to the strong proud black communities of the post depression era that had the highest business ownership, employment, two-parent families in their history even during the Jim Crow era? What happened since the Civil Rights movement that has seen the steady decline in all of those areas? It is hard to say that there are less opportunities for them, particularly when it comes to education, and affirmative action. Who’s is to blame for the exchange of the idea of community, family, and hard-work leading to a better life to the glorification of some insane ideal of a thug life? (Please know that this is a broad statement and obviously does not extend to the entire black community, but the statistics show that the percentage is growing every year) You talk all of the time of you being outcasted because you weren’t “Black Enough” or you were too white-acting. There is no legislation that will remove these profiling and people aren’t just going to change because you tell them it is wrong. You must prove them wrong. That can only be done from within. The only thing that I am convinced is a way to combat it is to stop distinguish themselves based on their race: Black Colleges, Black Caucuses, Black Churches, Black Fraternities, etc. If no other ethnic group can do that, they should be able to either. It does not help their cause and runs directly contrary to MLKs dream. Stop trying to divide yourself by racial lines and instead see yourself as an American or a human and make you connections based on the content you each others character.

    As an example to my own experience in being racially profiled (which in no way is close to what most blacks, especially black men have experienced) I can point to the local public basketball court when I was a teenager. I was the only white boy to try to get on the court. I could never see the light of day. I couldn’t get anyone to pick me up. If there any other explanation as to why I didn’t get to play besides me being white and the stereotype of whites being bad at basketball or can’t jump. They knew nothing else about me other than that. Should I cry racism? Should I sue them into making me be able to play with them? Should I try to level the playing field by making rules or laws to the court? Of course not! I had to work harder and be persistent until I got a chance to prove that I belonged. Even though I got on the court, I never got the ball. I had to bust my butt to get rebounds and putbacks, play hard D, make good assists. I had to prove my worth. They were not just going to give it to me. An amazing thing happened after that day, I never had to ask to get on the court again. They clamored to get me on their team because they KNEW I was the hardest worker and I belonged. There are all sorts of prejudices out there that go beyond race. Unfortunately, it is human nature to judge. It is one of our greatest faults that Jesus speaks to often. If everyone was like him, this wouldn’t be an issue. So, in the meantime, you can only control what you can show to the world through your character and work ethic.

    Cedric, I have never seen you or anyone beyond who you are as a person. Your race is less than irrelevant. And, to your credit, you have never portrayed yourself (to me) as anything but who you are as a person, not as a black person. If more people were like you, there would be little to profile.

    1. Ugh, I hate trying to articulate in written form because I always read it again and realize how I didn’t phase something the way I wanted, so please forgive me if I offend. I do want to clarify one thing. I was not trying to insist that blacks should not embrace their ethnicity altogether. That was not my intention. I was specifically speaking to those whom are Afro-centric, or anyone who is race-centric and not individual-centric. No race should be elevated above any other, nor should our government support any laws that give special privileges to or deny any to any race.

    2. There is so much I could say in response which would be a mixed bag, but all I can say is that I’ve had enough encounters of prejudice, racism, and profiling that I can’t take the chance of defending myself verbally much less physically or resisting those who would deem me suspicious. I’ve had to learn to overlook the little instances of suspicion surprise confusion and disapproval (which are many) so that I can be prepared respond best when the stakes are high.

    3. Oh wow, glad I found this. First, HEY! And thanks for writing Cedric. It is honest insights from black friends that help to keep me grounded. We intentionally moved into a largely black neighborhood 2 years ago and have learned so much by simply seeing how our new friends live and by sharing day to day experiences. Sometimes it is heartbreaking, sometimes encouraging… and I know that this verdict is hitting them hard. I value knowing your perspective and look forward to processing it with our friends here. Waco has an ugly history of violent racism and it is far from forgotten!

      Matt, I totally hear your side of things too. In our neighborhood we have heard so much about people in prison for various crimes, broken marriages, families with kids from various fathers, drugs, crime, prostitution… it’s honestly not even shocking anymore. Is this true of communities of other races? Of course, but it’s really heavy here. We are surrounded by people that have made some horrible choices! And their lives have only strengthened the stereotype of this part of town. We are praying through our role and how God wants to use us to bring restoration to these precious people. These lifestyles run deep, and I honestly think that many don’t know that there is a better way to live! They’ve never seen freedom, and they have no idea how to get there. They don’t like living in the projects, but everyone they know applies for disability and receives food stamps, so why wouldn’t they apply too? It’s a deep, dark hole. And it’s a painful place 😦

      I believe that the black community in the USA deserves our compassion. Not pity – what good does that do anyone? – but compassion and mercy. Jesus responded to everyone that way! And then he knelt down and got his hands dirty, living among the people and teaching them how things work in the Kingdom of God. We are firm believers in “Incarnational Living,” and have seen first hand how amazing it is to share life with people that are very different from us. They laugh openly when we do things that are “white,” and we do too 🙂 It’s healthy, it’s healing. They don’t understand us any better than we understand them, so they feed me soul food and I feed them chicken curry and we all have a good time. I’m not trying to say “Be like me!” but I do believe that, if the church would step up and BE THE CHURCH! the future would be much brighter.

      Arise oh God!

  2. Well said, Cedric. And since I wasn’t in the courtroom, and don’t have my juris doctorate, I can’t add anything to the case. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I respectfully disagree with some of the conclusions being drawn in your analysis. I would love to discuss in person since you know me, hopefully as a reasonable person, and know that we can have an open, honest & productive dialogue. I don’t dare share my thoughts using social media since my response would be stereotyped as a euro-American, Christian, heterosexual, Republican (not Tea Party though) male.

Responses and Feedback Welcome and Appreciated

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s