By Jean McGianni Celestin
Jean McGianni Celestin is a writer who focuses on the intersection of race with culture, sports and politics. Follow him @LiberatedKing
For many of us, the verdict rendered in George Zimmerman’s trial reiterated what we already knew, but didn’t want to hear again. It reinforced the cold, hard truth that black people’s lives―even an innocent 17 year old’s―are impermanent in the eyes of American society.
In almost every corner across this country, blacks are hunted daily by law enforcement and citizens armed with white privilege. They are subject to enquiry at every turn. And while institutional warranties like the Stand Your Ground statute Zimmerman invoked as his defense for killing Martin, and the NYPD’s Stop-Question-and-Frisk Program are becoming hot-button issues, America’s “Stop-and-Kill” culture against blacks has been around for centuries.
In the aftermath of Martin’s death, many placed their hopes for justice in the hands of a justice system that has historically justified white vigilantism against blacks. More than any other group we should’ve known better it seems, yet we rallied and pled for an investigation into Zimmerman’s actions in the spirit of fairness and equality.
Sanford, Fla., the site of the teen’s death, became the scene of all sorts of civil rights marches.
“I want justice,” said Sybrina Fulton of her son’s murder– justice from a legal system that has denied that fundamental right to the millions of Trayvon Martins before hers.
But racism is tricky in the way it often contorts how we see and react to things, and where we deposit our emotions―if we’re allowed to show any at all. Like the Devil, its greatest trick is perhaps its ability to convince us that it no longer exists.
“This case has nothing to do with race,” both the prosecution and Zimmerman’s defense team asserted since the beginning of the investigation, even though Martin’s physical appearance was what triggered Zimmerman’s actions.
In this instance, the consequence of racism left black people with nowhere to go but to the same judicial process that has shielded men like Zimmerman since Martin’s ancestors were enslaved on America’s plantations.
The emotionalism created by this tragedy riled all of us. The absurdity of Zimmerman’s altering accounts to Sanford Police, the inconsistencies, the sense of entitlement and lack of remorse he displayed made us angry; and, rightfully so. But it also clouded our perception of reality and made us believe that restitution for a dead black boy was possible in a society that hunts his kind with proclivity.
Zimmerman’s actions on the night that he shot Martin with his 9mm handgun were a reflection of what’s going on and of how white sees black in America. The residue is all around us. It’s on the tombs of Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Ousmane Zongo, Patrick Dorismond, and the thousands who’ve been victimized by this form of domestic terrorism.
The Fear of Black Skin
The fear that killed Trayvon Martin is real. It might sound counterintuitive in a white-dominated society, but its evidence is clear. It is possibly the only honest statement George Zimmerman made when he claimed that he was afraid of the unarmed teenager on the night of their encounter. Black people’s mere presence among whites creates a knee-jerk reaction that breeds the type of confrontation Zimmerman and Martin had that night. It’s rooted in the axiom that blacks are violent, can’t be trusted, and must be kept in their place. And though conservatives and Zimmerman apologists have pointed to his Hispanic background to counter assertions that race played a role, the reality is Zimmerman’s skin color affords him authority when it comes to blacks.
Blackness in white spaces is seen as a threat to this privilege and creates angst along the fault line of the American way of life. It’s been contested with Black Codes, Jim Crow, Separate But Equal, and actions like what took place on the night of Trayvon Martin’s murder.
Since Barack Obama’s 2008 election to the White House, gun ownership has soared among whites who believe that his rise is an indicator to America’s destruction. And as such, even if George Zimmerman had been found guilty of all charges, it wouldn’t have changed any of this. It wouldn’t have cured the pervasive aversion for blackness that exists in white communities all over the country. It wouldn’t have compelled those who benefit from the legal protection Zimmerman was afforded to relinquish it.
It certainly wouldn’t have proven that young black men aren’t criminals who “always get away” as Zimmerman stated during his original 911 call to police.
It wouldn’t have exonerated racism and all of the inherent injuries it causes. The legacy runs too deep. The damage done is too painful. Justice can’t be redeemed by a single act or rectified by the system. Not this one. Not for us.