The Zimmerman Verdict and Black Anger

The much-anticipated and long awaited for verdict is in: George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, is not guilty.

Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, said that the case should never have gone to trial; Don West, also on the defense team, said that the verdict assured that the tragedy (of Zimmerman being charged with a crime)  didn’t become a travesty.  Noticeably, there was very little, if any, compassion on the part of the defense team for the Martin family. Trayvon was again blamed for his own death, and O’Mara said, when answering a question on the case, that if Zimmerman had been black and  Martin, white, that Zimmerman would never have been arrested.

While law officials were preparing for riots as we all waited for the verdict, many, especially African-Americans, were hoping for justice, and were fighting the fear that, once again, the life of an African-American would not be deemed worthless.

There seem to be two sets of beliefs surrounding the case: on one side, there are the people who believe that Trayvon Martin was the one acting in self-defense, a frightened, unarmed teen who knew someone was following him. Then there is the other side that believes that it was Zimmerman who acted in self-defense after Trayvon attacked him.

On the one side, people think it is perfectly understandable, if Trayvon attacked Zimmerman, because Zimmerman was following this young man, even though police told him not to do it, and was out of his car. Did Trayvon attack him while he was in his car, forcing him out to defend himself, or did Trayvon attack him once he was out of his car, because he felt threatened by Zimmerman? On the other side, the only thing that seemed to matter is that Trayvon attacked Zimmerman, banging his head against the concrete. That made Zimmerman’s actions justifiable. The jury has said it. It is so.

But it isn’t. There is something terribly wrong with the fact that there is this breach between the capacity of  still too many whites to understand the rage that so many African-Americans feel in general, a rage that is massaged from its ever dormant state to active state when something like this happens. The all-too-familiar pain of having justice denied, historically, on the basis of skin color comes roaring back to the surface of the souls of people who have been beating the rage back for literally decades.

In 2012, the same year Zimmerman shot and killed Martin, a young African-American woman, Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison for shooting warning shots into the air to ward off her alleged abusive husband.  A Jacksonville, Florida resident, Alexander cited the “Stand Your Ground” law because, she said, she was in fear for her life. ( As Zimmerman was citing self-defense and that same law as the reason he shot Martin, Alexander’s plea for lenience on the basis of that same law was ignored.

It seemed inconsistent, unfair …wrong. If self-defense is the basis for using violence, and Alexander was defending herself against a person who was threatening to hurt her, then why is she in prison …and why is Zimmerman free? In other words, why does justice seem to apply more to white people than to African-Americans?  And why don’t people understand that as that has been the case for African-Americans in this country historically that African-Americans have a yearning for justice that has consistently eluded them?

That cities were preparing for violence in the aftermath of the verdict shows that everyone knows that there is anger amongst African-Americans. A friend of mine tweeted last night that police helicopters were hovering all over Baltimore last night following the verdict. White people are aware that there is rage, but do they understand the reason for the rage, and if they do, do they care? Does O’Mara understand how absolutely horrid it was to hear him essentially blame Trayvon for his own death? Does he realize how insulting it was to hear him ask Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, if it was possible that her son caused his own death? Zimmerman’s defense team all seemed to be blaming Trayvon for his own death.

Does the initial fear of Trayvon matter to them?

Apparently it does not and did not…and Trayvon’s life didn’t mean much, either. In the end, this kid was painted as some kind of trouble-maker, who should have just gone on home in spite of being followed. The fact that he was frightened because he was being followed didn’t matter! The fact that Zimmerman pegged him as a would-be criminal when he first saw him, based on, what …Trayvon’s appearance, or the fact that Trayvon’s appearance fed into Zimmerman’s biases – didn’t matter.

What it feels like is that it is still open season on black men in America. Zimmerman, acquitted, got the gun back that he used to kill Martin, and went home. Martin’s parents are left to deal with their pain at the apparent unfairness of the American judicial system.

And yes, that is a seedbed that produces anger, resentment, and a sense of hopelessness. Too often in our history,  all-white juries have decided against freedom and justice for African-Americans. That is a fact.

And it is a painful,candid observation …

George and Trayvon …and Justice

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford
Trayvon Martin Protest – Sanford (Photo credit: werthmedia)



OK. What is self-defense?


In the George Zimmerman trial, the defense is that George shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. One witness last week said that Trayvon was on top of George Zimmerman. Proof, they say, that the horrific outcome of their encounter was self-defense.


But this is where I get stuck.


How can the incident have been self defense for George Zimmerman when it is HE who apparently followed Trayvon, in spite of being told by police not to do that?  Did he get out of his car and approach Trayvon, or did Trayvon go over to his car and confront him? If  Trayvon did that, then maybe we can say George was acting in self-defense.


But, unless I’ve missed it, nobody has said that. In fact, nobody has said how it is that George and Trayvon got into their encounter! Trayvon wasn’t shot and found at the side of George’s car. The pair was found on the grass. If Trayvon was on top, couldn’t that be indicative of Trayvon having had to fight for his life?


Though the criticism of Rachel Jeantel has been met with mixed reviews, and though her appearance in court was unpolished and unsophisticated, her testimony was consistent and honest. This young woman, it seems, would have had no problem saying that Trayvon encountered George, at his car. Her testimony, to the contrary, has her saying to Trayvon, “run!”  From what I’ve read and heard so far, it just seems that George and Trayvon were fighting because George continued to follow Trayvon and finally, got out of his car. One wonders if that happened if Trayvon turned toward what was his father’s apartment, and George, fearing the teen was going to do something wrong, decided to stop him.


That some of the television defense attorneys seem so confident about this self-defense claim of Zimmerman is upsetting. There seems to be a great deal of disdain that the case became “political.” But the case begged closer examination from the start. In the history of law enforcement officers and black people, there have been far too many suspicious deaths and questionable arrests with no accountability from law enforcement. That ongoing reality in black, brown and poor neighborhoods has created a spirit of distrust of law enforcement …but in this case, it was law enforcement that told Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon, and it was a detective who wanted to arrest Zimmerman at the outset for manslaughter. In spite of the complaints that the case became “political,” it was a politicization that needed to happen. Zimmerman needed to be held accountable.


In the history of black people and the law, the latter has been woefully unjust. If one reads Michelle Alexander‘s The New Jim Crow, or reads the story of how Emmet Till‘s mother pressed for the world to see what the men who killed her son did, one gets a snippet of what has been a painful reality for black people. Historically, it didn’t matter that facts may have clearly indicated that a black person was innocent, or a law enforcement officer had clearly been wrong; blacks were declared guilty and sentenced to long prison terms or death; law enforcement officers went on doing what they had been doing. The system protected them, in a way no less heinous that the Catholic Church has protected priests who molested little boys. That is a hard reality, but a reality nonetheless. If one reads Slavery by Another Name it is again fascinating to see how black people were systematically criminalized as the Convict Lease System sought to have blacks continue to be available for hard labor, in spite of the fact that what was being done by law enforcement – in cahoots with industrial and agricultural enterprises – was illegal. Blacks do not cry salt-less tears; the pain wrought by being treated as criminals by a system which is supposed to mete out justice, is and has been, very real.


So, this case, in spite of the complaint of things being “political” needed to come to be. Trayvon’s parents demanded, rightfully so, that there be an arrest so that their son just didn’t disappear and be categorized as just another troubled, trouble-making black kid. Now, if this thing about self-defense can be clarified. Did Trayvon confront George at his car, or did Zimmerman get out of his car and confront Trayvon on the grass?


It is a small point, but one that will help some, like me, understand what really happened that evening. Without that, if Zimmerman is acquitted, there will be just another layer of hurt added to the already present history of hurt that black people have carried because of the injustice of the justice system when it comes to blacks.


That kind of hurt doesn’t go away. It represents a dream,deferred. The dream is that, in spite of racism, there can be justice for black people. Who was acting in self-defense, really? If we can get that cleared up, then maybe some of us who are not understanding how anyone can say that what has been described is or was a case of self-defense, can relax…and wait for justice.


A candid observation …



Trayvon’s Parents Show Grace Under Fire, Strength of Black Church

Trayvon Martin - Million Hoodies March 2012 020
Trayvon Martin - Million Hoodies March 2012 020 (Photo credit: calvinfleming)

It has been with the utmost grace and dignity that the parents of Trayvon Martin have held up since their son was shot and killed.

They have been resolute yet firm. They have shown compassion toward the family of George Zimmerman and indeed have not shot poisonous darts,verbal or otherwise,  toward the man who has been accused of shooting their son. They have held their anger in check, not wanting, it seems to divert attention from their goal: justice for their son.

Surely they have shown grace under fire.

God…and other parents who have lost children for whatever reason, but especially due to violence – knows their pain. They would have been within their rights, their grieving rights, to rant and rave.

And yet, they have stood, in a protective and protected place.

It has seemed, as I have watched them, that the nation and indeed the world, has been able to see the power of  the Black Church. It has been none other than the Black Church, with its emphasis on the ever-presence of God and its insistence that God demands social justice, which has kept the African-Americans on solid ground and in their right minds throughout their sojourn in America.

The history of black people in America seeking Jesus for their literal salvation on earth is one of the most beautiful and powerful in all American history. Albert J. Raboteau, in his The Invisible Institution, wrote that when a slave was questioned about conditions of slavery, he said, “We endeavor to keep ourselves up as well as we can …what can we do unless we keep up a good heart. If we were to droop, we should die!”

Slaves were pushed to have a special trust in Jesus; there seemed to be none but God and his son Jesus in this strange country which used them but did not respect them.  Writes Raboteau of another slave, “I knew very well, if God was able to deliver me from the corrupt influence of the world and the power of Satan, that he was able to deliver me from this slave-holder. Yet, I was like so many others, I did not see by what method he would secure my deliverance. Still, with childlike simplicity, I trusted him.”

It was this constant teaching blacks received in the Black Church during and after slavery which made the Black Church unique, and which accounts for African-Americans having the strength to push through and, like Trayvon’s parents, demand justice in spite of huge odds.

Of course, there has been some criticism of the Black Church – like, for instance, it urged black people to endure the suffering on this earth and become complacent, believing in a sweet “life after,” and there were not a few African-Americans who absorbed that particular message, but the reason for African-Americans enduring and prospering in this country, in spite of great odds, has been this persistent nudging and reminding by the Black Church to trust God and his son Jesus, no matter how bleak a situation.

Doing so gives on grace under fire.

As I have watched Trayvon’s parents, I have found myself thinking, “They love the Lord…and they are holding onto Jesus by the skins of their teeth.”  Some voice, bigger than the oppressive voices of racism and injustice, has been speaking peace and power and determination into their grieving spirits. I would imagine God speaks like that to anyone who will listen; certainly the parents of other missing or exploited children have heard it, too, and have shown grace under fire as they have waited for positive news.

But in the case of Trayvon Martin, and the history of African-Americans not receiving justice so often in America, I am thinking that the voice of God has to be sharper, clearer, because this history of racism and injustice inspires rage, and not peace. It would have been so easy for Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin to scream out, “racism!” but they never did.

It has been, consistently and quietly, the demand for justice, simple justice for a 17-year-old kid who happened to be their son.

As of this writing, the Washington Post is reporting that George Zimmerman will be arrested. A pastor working with Trayvon’s parents, the Rev. Jamal Bryant, said in a CNN interview that the parents have been praying.

No kidding.

The old people always told me that “prayer changes things.” The author of the Book of James wrote that the “fervent, effectual prayer of the righteous avails much.”  Yes, surely. Like grace under fire. It has been amazing to watch Trayvon’s parents, and has given credence to the power of God, certainly, and the power and strength of the Black Church, specifically.

A candid observation …


Dr. King and the Trayvon Martin Case

Dr. Martin Luther King at a press conference.
Dr. Martin Luther King at a press conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week, as I listened to different people, primarily white, urge people to “trust” the justice system, and to “wait” for the justice system to work in the Trayvon Martin case, I found myself wanting to cover my ears from the din of useless noise.

Useless noise is exactly what it sounded like, this plea for African-Americans to wait for the justice system to work, because the system has so seldom worked on behalf of black, brown and poor people in this nation.

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King talks about “the law,” and how there are just and unjust laws. It seems that white clergy were urging Dr. King to obey the law and to “wait for the justice system to work.” Dr. King pushed back, saying that “there are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application.” I thought of the “stand your ground” law that is apparently protecting accused shooter George Zimmerman from being arrested. Truly, that law is just on its face, but it seems like it was unjustly applied in this case.

Dr. King talks about what is “legal,” in his discussion of just and unjust laws. The white clergy were accusing Dr. King of breaking the law, and therefore doing something illegal. Again, Dr. King pushed back, writing, “We can never forget that everything Hitler did in German was legal and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid a Jew in Hitler’s Germany,” he wrote. If, I thought, Trayvon was the aggressor in this case, according to Florida law, he would have been breaking the law, and would have put himself in the position of having to be fought off.

But it just doesn’t seem that that scenario is correct…and it seemed, as I listened to white people urge others to be calm and obey the law and let the justice system work, that they were more concerned with “law and order” than they were, or are, concerned with justice. Said Dr. King: “the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice, who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action,’ who paternally feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom, who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to ‘wait until a more convenient season,” …is frustrating. He said people of good will who have such shallow understanding are more frustrating than people of ill will who have absolute, total misunderstanding.”

It is apparently very difficult for white Americans to understand the “souls” of black people in this nation, who have been so battered, and not bettered by, the justice system. There are reasons why the rage is so obvious about young Trayvon’s shooting and Zimmerman’s non-arrest. The reasons reach far back into our history; many of us have relatives who were abused by a justice system which never intended to exhibit justice toward them or their cases. And now, here in the 21st century, we find that really not all that much progress has been made.

Roland Martin, CNN commentator, said that if there are no protests, we cannot hope for justice. Had it not been for the bravery and tenacity of Trayvon’s parents, this case would have been swept under the rug with no mention; another young black male would simply have been buried…but Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s parents, sounded the battle cry, blew the trumpet, if you will. Their refusal to let their son die in vain reminded me of how Emmett Till‘s mother, Mamie, catapulted the national shame called lynching to international attention when she refused to let her son’s death be ignored.

Dr. King, in Letter from a Birmingham Jail, wrote, “Oppressed  people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come.”  He acknowledged that “few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those that have been oppressed, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.

Dr. King’s words, written in the mid 1960s, are just as appropriate today. The demonstrations against what appears to be gross injustice in the Trayvon Martin case must continue …or else, there will be no justice.

A candid observation…

What If Trayvon Martin Was Standing HIS Ground?

The Sanford, Florida Police Department has said that it cannot arrest George Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin because they cannot find probable cause. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense, and because he had a cut on the back of his head and appeared to have been roughed up, they are claiming that self-defense cannot be ruled out.

But what if it was Trayvon Martin who was standing HIS ground?

Consider the circumstances, as described by news reports. The young Martin is walking home, hood on his head, minding his business. He is spotted by Zimmerman, who calls 911 and says Martin looks “suspicious.” He starts following Martin in his car, although police tell him he doesn’t need to do that. The 911 tapes reveal that Zimmerman agrees to meet police at the front gate.

But Zimmerman continues to follow young Trayvon. I am sure that the youth knew he was being followed and became nervous. Then, for some reason, Zimmerman gets out of his car. The news reports do not say that Trayvon’s body was found next to Zimmerman’s car, which would have shown that Trayvon approached Zimmerman. Rather, Trayvon’s body was found on the grass not far from his stepfather’s home in the gated community.

That says to me that Zimmerman got out of his car and approached Trayvon. Wouldn’t that mean that Trayvon felt threatened, and fought with Zimmerman, probably frightened as well as angry? Doesn’t the place where Trayvon’s body was found tell a story of his having been approached, suddenly, by this unknown man who had been following him in his car?

How come the Sanford police are not considering this scenario, which, the more I think about it, is much more likely what happened. Perhaps Trayvon yelled out to Zimmerman while he was in his car, asking him why he was following him…but the way the incident has been described still indicate that Trayvon was approached and assaulted by Zimmerman, not the other way around.

The chief of the Sanford Police Department is frustrated that this case is generating so much attention. I am not surprised; it would have been much easier to just let this case shake out the way Zimmerman has said, with another African-American young male the sacrificial lamb, “one more again.”

This is racism at its ugliest. It is the type of incident that shakes the very souls of African-Americans in this country, who have made strides not because of this country, but in spite of it.

It is a moral outrage, and an insult, and a slap in the face that Zimmerman has not been arrested, and that nobody is certain that he will be. Larger, this case speaks volumes for the raging infection called racism that is eating away at America’s very core.

A candid observation …