Trayvon Martin_Tracy Martin

Write Through It.

On Twitter, there’s a popular phrase that’s often used: Tweet Through It. We use it whenever someone seems to be going through a distressful time or is telling a story. They literally “tweet through” their drama. For them, it’s therapy, but it’s entertainment to those who read along. At 5:30 AM Sunday morning, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the State of Florida v. George Zimmerman trial verdict, the rumbling quake that it sent throughout the country upon its announcement Saturday night and the aftershocks that quake will leave behind. Sorting through many emotions and even more thoughts, and in an effort to fight back my frustration or do something I might regret, I “write through it.”

I don’t want to be one of those “I always thought it might come back ‘Not Guilty’” people. Actually, I strongly hoped it wouldn’t. For over a year, the case and circumstances surrounding the murder wrongful death of Trayvon Martin have haunted me. Trayvon wasn’t the first Black teenage boy to be killed in cold blood, and he certainly wouldn’t be the last. But there was something intriguing about the circumstances surrounding Martin’s killing. Last winter, a young man was wandering  in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, a community that he wasn’t himself a resident of but one in which his father’s fiancee lived. He had previously walked to a nearby corner store and, because it was raining, he wore a hooded sweatshirt. Another resident of the community, George Zimmerman, noticed the young man and didn’t recognize him. He grew suspicious because individuals fitting the young man’s description had allegedly been involved in home burglaries in that community.

Zimmerman contacted local law enforcement to inform them of this suspicious presence in his neighborhood. The police encouraged Zimmerman to stay in his car and not follow the young man; but Zimmerman’s assumption that the young man was one of the burglars returning to his neighborhood, coupled with his concern that the young man might avoid being apprehended, convinced Zimmerman to take action, so he pursued the young man in the darkness.

A confrontation ensued. What happened after that point, only two people know for sure. Only one of them lived to tell his side of the story.

Write Through It.

On the one hand, I’m appreciative of what this whole ordeal demonstrates – that the people can take action where justice demands us to. As more and more people became aware of the incident, more and more people drew attention to it. It grew into a movement of sorts, especially on social media fronts, as individuals on facebook and twitter and even basketball teams photographed themselves wearing hoodies and bearing bags of Skittles candy and Arizona iced tea – the only two things Trayvon was “armed” with that night – in a show of support. Though the tactic would be decried, the growing interest it drew to the case itself, coupled with growing pressures placed upon Florida State Attorney Angela Corey to press charges against Zimmerman, was largely responsible for the case even going to trial at all.

On the other hand, I’m frustrated by what happened over the course of the trial proceedings. In cases like this, the burden of proof is on the prosecution – they must present their evidence in such a way as to indicate that George Zimmerman and only George Zimmerman could have killed Trayvon Martin, and that the killing was one done out of malice rather than self-defense (which Zimmerman claimed).

The State’s Attorney’s office could’ve exploited so many points of evidence (for example, Medical Examiner Valerie Rao’s insistence that the extent of Zimmerman’s injuries were not consistent with his claims that Martin had punched and banged his head into the sidewalk concrete numerous times), but they didn’t. Rachel Jeantel, Trayvon’s friend and the last person to hear Trayvon’s voice before he died (via a phone conversation), was all but ridiculed when she took the stand, as much for the “attitude” she gave attorneys from both sides, as she was for her inarticulateness. The defense, especially, played upon Jeantel’s struggles to speak “plainly” in English, in an attempt to discredit her character and testimony (the prosecution didn’t help – Prosecuting Attorney Bernie De La Rionda, in his closing statement, noted Jeantel as “not the most sophisticated person”).

An attempt was made to compare the racial slurs “cracker” and “nigger,” an attempt that would literally become a debate point on CNN that same weekend. The defense seemed smug, as even though the judge denied two appeals of acquittal, attorney Don West still felt confident enough to open things up with a poorly timed and executed “knock knock” joke. Zimmerman wanted to testify for himself but, given the contradictions in his story, his legal team smartly discouraged him from taking the stand.

And not even the strongest of rebuttals from the prosecution following the defense’s closing statement – an emotional appeal that emphasized “this is not a case about Stand Your Ground. This is about staying in your car” – could convince the jury and offset the defense’s sticking point that “following somebody isn’t against the law.”

Zimmerman Trial Enters Jury Deliberation Phase

It’s tempting to point fingers and blame somebody. You could blame presiding Judge Debra Nelson, except she was impartial and very fair throughout the trial proceedings. Arguably, were it up to Judge Nelson and not the jury, I would suggest that the judge would have convicted Zimmerman of manslaughter (especially given on multiple occasions, she directly confronted the defense’s efforts to sidestep proper court procedure). Except it wasn’t up to her; it was up to a jury of six women. And while it may be easy to blame them, too, they might reasonably have felt as though the conditions outlined in order for Zimmerman to be found guilty of second degree murder or manslaughter, simply weren’t satisfied. Hence why they found him “not guilty.”

Write Through It.

Perhaps I should have seen it coming on Friday afternoon, when the Sanford Police Department called a press conference in light of threats and concerns that the community might riot if an unfavorable verdict were returned. One of Sanford’s Black pastors took the mic during this press conference, telling people that regardless of the outcome, residents of Sanford should remember that “ours is a peaceful town” and that “[they] can talk through and dialogue about their issues.” I didn’t like what this suggested – that preparations were being made in the event Sanford’s Black community responded; and that a Black pastor had been brought in to calm them down. It made me think of the Charles Chesnutt novel The Marrow of Tradition, where a Black person of prominence in the town is sought out by the white leadership to urge the “coloreds” to settle down.

I can’t say on this site that I would have supported a riot within the community of Sanford. I will say, that I do wonder if a demonstration of civil unrest might have proved a point. For years, decades even, Blacks have often “marched” to prove their points; and while marches get the people out, still, instances of injustice arise, on a weekly if not daily basis. If the perception was already that Black people – Black males, especially – must be prone to violence and threatening, why NOT prove that perception right?

It was a wrongful perception like this, in fact, that caused George Zimmerman to kill Trayvon Martin. He assumed, wrongfully, and he made an ass out of himself by killing the young man when it seemed he was on the losing side of their confrontation. But in the end, the person who “won” that fight is still alive, and as the “winners” write history, he alone gets to be the authority on what really happened on the night of February 26, 2012.

Write Through It.

Sybrina Fulton_Tracy Martin

Just as Trayvon evolved into something symbolic and became representative of many Black people that had been wrongfully killed before him (for example, Oscar Grant, whose tribute biopic film Fruitvale Station will surely resonate even more in light of this verdict), so too did this trial take on a bigger meaning. It presented an opportunity, finally, for the justice system to take a stand, to insist that another Black youth hadn’t ended up on a morgue slab in vain. It fell short.

Because of this verdict, George Zimmerman is free to roam the streets again, although he’ll carry his reputation for being a vigilante little gangster Brother child killer with him.

Because of this verdict, I am worried that I’ll have to add “don’t wear a hoodie and carry any snacks in your pocket at night” right next to “Don’t run if you see a cop car nearby” and “Put your hands on the steering wheel immediately if the police pull you over” on the list of things I’ll have to tell my son he must do to avoid being deemed suspicious or threatening.

In one fell swoop, the verdict said it’s okay to take the law into your own hands, to be a vigilante in Florida, and it justified the murder of a Black child. It implies that one need not worry about being held accountable for killing a Black boy in cold blood.

It makes me question if all the work I’ve done to be an “upstanding citizen” will have been done in vain should I ever find myself in a situation where the law must rule on my life. It told Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, that the man who killed their son was wholly innocent and that Trayvon might even have been “responsible” for his own murder; he certainly wasn’t alive to defend himself from being painted as the aggressor. Some are quick to invoke Martin Luther King, Jr. motifs, to say it’s not Christian to riot or “strike back,” to say that we should take the higher ground and turn the other cheek. But MLK also said that Blacks in America shouldn’t be complacent with “second-class citizenship,” and it would be unfortunate if, for the sake of being the bigger people, we didn’t respond at all.

Something must change. We must bring attention to repealing Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. We must be prepared to protect the youth when they are left defenseless. Something more than just a completely dark picture. Something more than just writing through it. Something must change.