By David Evans, Regal Radio
Life is unfortunately cheap when you’re young and black. Somewhere in Florida last February, a black boy died. This past week, in the minds of many, he was officially buried.
For the past year in a half, the most famous dead black boy in quite a long time has been Trayvon Martin, a 17 teen year old killed walking through a housing complex in Sanford, Fla., by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who believed that Martin may have been the cause of recent burglaries in the area. But just as much of a shame as Martin’s death itself was, the acquittal of Zimmerman last Saturday night by a jury of six women at Seminole County court in Florida was worse.
The verdict confirmed something known by many African Americans, not only that racism is still alive, but that the lives of young black men are cheap. It is a maxim that is reinforced daily by the news media every night on the evening news in almost every major city in America. In many cases, the death of these young black males are considered viable because of illegalities, a result of drugs, gang violence, or unfortunate cases where the victim may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
During the proceedings of the case, Martin, by several media outlets was portrayed as a hoodlum when he wasn’t being misidentified entirely (pictures of a taller, muscular Trayvon Martin circulated, taken from the Facebook page of another man by that name living in Georgia. That Martin is still alive). Pictures of rapper the Game were circulated and identified as Martin as well.
The fact that Martin had a low amount of marijuana in his system at the time of his death and had been suspended from school for fighting prior to his death were also used to perpetuate the idea that Martin was a troublemaker. The damning testimony of Martin associate Rachel Jeantel (who lied about her age and why she didn’t attend Martin’s funeral) also hurt the state’s attempt to prosecute Zimmerman.
The Zimmerman case sets a precedent, as was the first time where killing someone for reasons other than self defense was legally sanctioned, thanks to Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground Law, which states that “a person may justifiably use force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of an unlawful threat, without an obligation to retreat first.”
Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal worries me mostly because I have a brother who is a year older than Martin would be today had he lived. The Zimmerman case has changed the dialogue I would have with him if he were to be pursued by someone other than a member of law enforcement. Where I would have one time told him to defend himself if attacked, now I would tell him make every attempt to avoid conflict with the person in order to avoid opening himself up to potential harm.
Zimmerman himself brings to mind the old Charles Bronson Death Wish films, in which once mild mannered Paul Kersey turns into a cold hearted vigilante after his wife is murdered. The difference between Bronson’s character and Zimmerman however, is that Kersey only pursued/killed people actually in the commission of a crime. Martin, however was not.
National media responses to the Martin case/Zimmerman verdict have been varied. Geraldo Rivera of Fox News called Martin “a thug,” and stated that since Martin dressed like a thug, he was entitled to be treated like one. Stevie Wonder has refused to perform in Florida until the repealing of the Stand Your Ground law and many celebrities took to Twitter to express their feelings about the Zimmerman verdict.
These events, along with the various rallies across the country (done with various levels of violence, mostly lower levels compared to past incidents) are a visceral response to an all to common event in the black community: justice denied, the inability to obtain legal recourse in cases where it’s members are harmed, especially when the perpetrator is not black. Especially when the perpetrator gets away with a flimsy defense in the public of having no other recourse but to violently end a black man’s life in a situation that looks like it could be handled in a dozen other ways.
The events that led to the sentencing of Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Menserle to a mere two years imprisonment for killing 22 year old Bay Area resident Oscar Grant on New Years Day 2009, executed a similar blueprint in societal unrest with the black community’s sense of justice being overthrown once again.
In its initial release last weekend, the film Fruitvale Station, named for the place where Grant and Menserle collided, became a sub chapter of the Martin/Zimmerman story, a creative touchstone that has already effected many who have seen it especially given its current context played against such a similar recent occurrence. The film is likely to open more eyes and minds as it continues its wider release across the country over the next couple weeks.
The film’s star, Michael B. Jordan, who portayed Grant, responded poignantly to the Zimmerman verdict after a screening of Fruitvale Station in Los Angeles the night of the verdict’s release:
“My heart hurts so bad right now. I wasn’t going to come after I found out about George Zimmerman getting acquitted. It broke me up,” Jordan said.
“That’s why I think this film means so much, because it keeps happening again and again. [We must] learn how to treat each other better and stop judging one another just because we’re different. It’s not just a black and white thing, it’s a people thing. It’s the only way that things are going to take the necessary steps to move in the right direction so things can get better because I don’t think it’s ever gonna stop, but something’s got to f–king change.”
How we create this change is the million dollar question. Maybe a great number of people seeing Fruitvale Station can help encourage the kind of thinking this society will need to approach such a challenge.
More on Fruitvale Station and Martin/Zimmerman:
The inspiring story of Ryan Coogler, director of Fruitvale Station, who was affected deeply by Grant and his tragic end and seemed destined to tell the man’s story at this level. (Associated Press via Washington Post)
Coogler talks to Uptown Magazine about his movie, Trayvon Martin and the intersection of the Martin and Grant stories. (Uptown Magazine)
President Obama’s revealing speech on Friday regarding his feelings about the Zimmerman verdict and the nation’s reaction to it. (Time Magazine)
Follow David on Twitter @davidevans9 and Regal Radio @regalradio1