Zimmerman was Florida’s racist road ‘drone’!



by Selvam Canagaratna

"Sometimes, racial prejudice is like a hair across your cheek. You can’t see it, you can’t find it with your fingers, but you keep brushing at it because the feel of it is irritating."

- Marian Anderson interview, Ladies’ Home Journal (1960)

There was a "sly inversion at work in the references to lynch mobs and riots", one that took George Zimmerman’s acquittal [on the charge of murdering 17-year-old black American Trayvon Martin] "and expanded it to all of American history," noted William Jelani Cobb, Associate Professor of History and Director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut.

Cobb’s point: America has a long history of lynchings, but it "wasn’t one in which non-black defendants needed to fear the fury of black mobs."

At some point in the Zimmerman-Martin saga, said Cobb, it became a truism in certain quarters that a not-guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial would be greeted by fire, chaos, and mob violence. "This idea has apparently survived the almost completely peaceful protests over the verdict that actually took place. This faulty narrative of impending doom yielded to an equally inaccurate story of doom narrowly averted."

Amplifying the irony was the fact that the verdict was announced on July 13, 2013 — the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draft-resisters’ riots in New York City, in which white mobs pursued and killed blacks on the streets and burned a black orphanage to the ground.

"America’s past is populated with similar rioters, driven by a desire to eliminate black voting, to discipline purported black criminals en masse, to veto school integration at the grassroots level," wrote Cobb. "We scarcely discuss them and would like to believe that they have no bearing upon the present. The mass uprisings that followed the Rodney King verdict and Martin Luther King’s assassination remain lodged in public memory. The riots to prevent busing and punish blacks who wandered into white neighborhoods do not."

The popular narrative, however, presented whites as the primary victims of racism, noted Cobb. "It’s not solely a matter of historical revisionism — it’s also contemporary revisionism — reflecting a skewed perspective on the events in Sanford, Florida, and what followed them. Thousands of people gathered without hostility in cities across the country last year to ask that Zimmerman be arrested, and that the justice system be given a real chance to work. They sought legal redress, not bloodletting."

The most deeply saddening aspect of the entire affair, in Cobb’s view, was that from the outset — throughout the forty-four days it took for there to be an arrest, and then in the sixteen months it took to for the case to come to trial — there remained a nagging suspicion that it would culminate in disappointment. "Call this historical profiling."

"The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty." During the cross-examination of Martin’s mother, the defence attorney asked if she was avoiding the idea that her son had done something to cause his own death. At the defence’s table, and in the precincts far beyond it, there was a sense that Zimmerman was indeed the victim.

The defense attorney’s query to Martin’s mum seemed to echo a criticism that has been circulating long before Martin and Zimmerman first encountered each other, and which goes something like this: Thousands of black boys die at the hands of other African Americans each year, but the black community becomes concerned only when those deaths are caused by whites.

"It’s an appealing argument, but is simplistic and obtuse," commented Cobb. "The added quotient of outrage stems not from the belief that a white murderer is somehow worse than a black one but from the knowledge that race determines whether fear, history, and public sentiment offer that killer a usable alibi."

To be black at times like this, said Cobb, was to see current events on a real-time ticker, a Dow Jones average measuring the quality of one’s citizenship. "Trayvon Martin’s death is an American tragedy, but it will mainly be understood as an African-American one. That it occurred in a country that elected and re-elected a black President doesn’t diminish the despair this verdict inspires, it intensifies it.

"We can understand the verdict to mean validation for the idea that the actions Zimmerman took that night were those of a reasonable man, that the conclusions he drew were sound, and that a black teen-ager can be considered armed any time he is walking down a paved street. There’s fear that the verdict will embolden vigilantes, but that need not be the concern: history has already done that."

Bruce Jackson, author of  Law and Disorder: Criminal Justice in America, noted that issues of race which were central to most people’s perception of what happened in Florida, were excluded from the trial by order of the Judge. So was discussion of Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, which permits people to shoot other people they feel threatened by [rather than doing everything they can to get out of the situation first] was also excluded from court testimony. "Many people — correctly, I think — consider the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law a racial hunting license," wrote Jackson. The New York Times, perhaps mischievously, quoted Texas Gov. Rick Perry saying: "I think our justice system is colourblind." [Perry’s ‘blindness’ is unquestionably total, but only to the truth.]

In Jackson’s view, the basic question the prosecutors could never pose to the jury was: Had Trayvon Martin been a blonde white boy on the way home with a bag of goodies, would Zimmerman have thought him worth tracking in the first place?

Vijay Prashad, Professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut posed another question: "What was Zimmerman doing in his Honda Ridgeline, driving around Sanford, Florida? Looking for trouble? If Trayvon Martin had been wearing a suit and driving a BMW, Zimmerman would have resented him – envy refracted through an enduring sense of racial hierarchy. That is why so many wealthy African Americans in fancy cars find themselves being unduly pulled over by white police officers – just checking, I suppose, if the car has been stolen.

"But Martin, age 17, had on a hoodie, which doesn’t evoke resentment for the racist consciousness – only a strange mixture of fear and anger. But the racist consciousness does not experience fear without anger – it is the latter that forces him to go on the hunt. He had to get the target. Zimmerman forced the confrontation, held out the gun and pulled the trigger. That is beyond question. What he did had been legally sanctified by the State of Florida.

"Zimmerman was Florida’s domestic drone, hovering around in his Ridgeline, looking for the ‘bad guys’, asking the home base – in this case the local police station – for permission to engage and then going in for the kill. Nothing he had done from the minute he began to stalk Martin was illegal, just as nothing is illegal to the drone operators as they set their Reapers into flight and let loose their Hellfire missiles on some unsuspecting ‘bad guys’ who are en route to a wedding or just going out to get some kebabs on the ridge."

Though mainstream media claimed race did not play a role in the trial, a 17-year-old kid is dead because being young, Black, and male, and wearing a hoodie in the rain is a crime punishable by death in The Indispensable Nation.

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