My apologies to Theodore Dreiser for stealing his title, but the jury's verdict in the George Zimmerman trial suggests that the price our "exceptional" Republic continues to pay for its past embrace of slavery is for racial conflict to keep haunting our society at all levels producing human tragedy at a breathtaking pace.
It was not my intention to write about this issue, since I'm neither lawyer nor social scientist and am not comfortably acquainted with the facts or the evidence in the Zimmerman case. However, two items from two media sources struck me as alternately stunning and infuriating and just seemed to sum up the fallout from these tragic episodes.
The first item was from All in with Chris Hayes on July 11, 2013 (at about 2:16 into the video). Chris Hayes' guests are two African-Americans, Maya Willey (Center for Social Inclusion) and Jelani Cobb (Associate Professor of History at the University of Connecticut). The exchange that I found to be a stunner (as did Chris Hayes) was:
Jelani Cobb: Yeah. i think, i've been saying this all along. i think that people riot when they expect justice and don't get it. i don't think black people expect justice in this case.That program was aired before the verdict was in, so Jelani Cobb's remarks turned out to be prescient. But beyond that, they indict us as a people who tolerate and even promote racial injustice to a point that minorities no longer expect justice but rather brace themselves for random violence from the authorities sworn to protect them
Chris Hayes: That's an incredibly intense statement.
See you after the fold.
The second jolt came from an AP piece appearing in last Sunday's morning newspaper. The quote that made me seethe was:
Zimmerman also had some supporters outside the courthouse, including Cindy Lenzen, 50, of Casslebury, and her brother, 52-year-old Chris Bay, who stood watching others chant slogans such as, "the whole system's guilty."What infuriated me was their solicitous concern for George Zimmerman's "tragedy" of "this going to be a recurring nightmare in his mind every night."
Lenzen and Bay - who are white - called the entire case "a tragedy," especially for Zimmerman.
"It's a tragedy that he's going to suffer for the rest of his life," Bay said. "No one wins either way. This is going to be a recurring nightmare in his mind every night."
No mention that Trayvon Martin will never have any nightmares to worry about because HE'S DEAD thanks to George Zimmerman!. It would be comforting to know that George Zimmerman has at least enough conscience to even generate nightmares. I haven't heard any reports of genuine remorse from him throughout this whole episode. My perception is that any George Zimmerman remorse has been for the trouble this episode has caused him.
As I mentioned above, I haven't followed every twist in this case and my assessment of George Zimmerman's conscience and level of remorse may in fact be based on my own ignorance. I'm sure that commenters will set me straight if I've mischaracterized anything above...please do.
But that is not the point I'm hoping to make.
George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin are two players in this latest installment of our ongoing American racial tragedy. They are each a stand in for the many players across this country whose fates are intertwined by racial animus, poverty and the ubiquity of firearms. If George Zimmerman had been carrying a bottle of mace or pepper spray or even a baseball bat that evening, he would have remained an anonymous 911 call and we would never have heard of him.
Yet Trayvon Martin's ultimate fate fell into the intersection of pernicious forces which George Zimmerman's actions pushed into a "perfect storm," a confluence of history, politics and the clash of cultures. The brutal outcome saw Trayvon Martin's life extinguished and George Zimmerman unmasked as a banal vigilante before the entire global human community.
In addition to recurring litigation in the coming months and years, George Zimmerman will remain a recognizable face, a major figure in an episode of a global drama familiar to billions and he will thus be stigmatized by indelible notoriety, by the specter of anonymous vengeance and perhaps worst of all...with his lionization by some of the worst among us and his demonization by the rest of us. I can't imagine anyone wanting to change places with George Zimmerman.
Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman are only the most recent human faces of corrosive racism paired with gun violence and then pureed by a criminal justice system that prosecutes selectively...that appears to place value on human life based on a variety of unseemly and regressive factors--race, social standing and wealth. The jury in this case apparently concluded that ending further inconvenience for George Zimmerman was more important than delivering justice for terminating Trayvon Martin's life. That must become a signal that we made a wrong turn back up the road a ways and that we are still not on the path to equal justice for all.
Devaluing any human life as the Florida justice system did Trayvon Martin's by needing public pressure to begin prosecution for his killing and as Zimmerman's defense counsels did by turning him into a thug diminishes us all and paints a horrific picture of how the USA is dealing with the cruelty and barbarism of its past.