One of my colleagues tweeted last night "The American Justice System has just told Black mothers your sons are not safe." Sadly, Black mothers and fathers already knew this. They know that the law is constructed in such a way that a man can stalk and threaten and shoot to kill a 17-year-old boy walking home from the store with nothing but a packet of Skittles in his pocket, and that man can be found Not Guilty. I have no words to write about the verdict in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, or rather I have too many words, and they spill through my head and chest with such force of emotion that I cannot make them march in orderly fashion.
So I will borrow the words of journalist and historian Jelani Cobb, who I think framed the whole tragic story exactly right in Blood on the Leaves, his New Yorker post this morning.
And I will also share the words of author and educator Tim Wise in No Innocence Left to Kill, about the moment last evening when he watched his 12-year-old daughter grasp America's sin.
I will also note what commentator Melissa Harris-Perry said right after the verdict, that you know this case was about race because of the fear and sadness Black families are feeling today, and because of the fact that Trayvon Martin, a Black teen with no criminal record, was effectively tried and convicted for his own murder. The travesty is not so much the dehumanizing stereotype of Trayvon that the defense put forward, but that the prosecution let it stand—did not challenge in any meaningful way the transformation of an innocent child walking home from the store into the scary Black bogeyman of some people's nightmares.
We won't talk about my nightmares.
In retrospect, it's clear that the prosecution had no intention of ever winning this case. Overcharging Zimmerman with second-degree murder was the first clue. There was always going to be reasonable doubt, because only two people were on that sidewalk that night, and one of them is dead. Manslaughter was the charge that applied. No doubt Florida State Attorney Angela Corey knew that. Her demeanor after the verdict came down, her "We are so proud to stand before you tonight..." press conference was just surreal. I had to keep asking myself, Wait, isn't she on the side of the prosecution? So why all the glee and self-congratulation? Didn't you just lose the case?
And another thing: Why didn't that Stand Your Ground law apply to Trayvon Martin's defending himself against a stranger with a gun who was following him in the night? Why was this argument not made by the prosecution and only mentioned in passing in the closing arguments? Oh, I could go on and on, but what's the use? This happened.
Hold your babies close.
Photo: New Yorkers marched from Union Square to Times Square and up to 125th Street to protest last night's verdict. There were similar peaceful demonstrations all around the country.