How To Talk About The Zimmerman Trial

I wrote a piece, On Zimmerman and American Racism upon delivery of the verdict. I have read a lot of pieces on the subject. I have read a lot of commentary on the subject. Emotions are high and tempers are high. This case, for better of for worse, is not just about the fatal and tragic death of an unarmed seventeen year-old boy by a man who the courts have decided is free of any crime. It is about American socio-political culture, it is about self-defense, and it is about gun laws. But perhaps, when it’s all said and done, this case is inevitably about race and no amount of focus on other aspects of the case, can take that away.

In the first place, it would do many of us good to separate the facts from the hype. It is easy to get caught in the hype; I myself get caught up in it. From the social position I am standing in – though I am foreign, I am Black – it is a very difficult position to ask me not to see the racial undertones of this case. White people often do not need to talk about race in any context because Whiteness is invisible; it does not need to be pointed out. It is the norm; the standard. I say this not as an incitement but as a matter of social reality.

As I wrote in my piece, Black bodies universally are subjected to different moral codes based on their social constructions. Black female bodies are simultaneously hypersexualized and desecrated. Black male bodies are deemed dangerous. These are universalized social constructions which cannot be separated from socio-political conversations. But we must be careful to put them in the context of the case in a way that matters and is relevant, and not just because it is available as a point of contention.

A friend/colleague mentioned yesterday how I understand self-defense and Stand Your Ground laws. I had discussed very little about specifics of these laws because my understanding is at best, superficial. I have the general understanding but as it applies to intricate details of the case, I must admit my ignorance. But I do not need to be an expert on everything. And neither do you. But what is not okay is to claim expert knowledge on things that you don’t know. Which is why I took a communication-social-psychological-moral-philosophical approach in discussing the actions of the case as I understood it. However, I am witnessing a lot of misinformation about laws in this country surrounding this case and it would do us good to seek counsel from those who know better. I know I need to.

It is also impossible to talk about this case without talking about the way the legal system works. An understanding of how a jury is picked, what the jury bases their decision on, evidence, and the nature of trials must be given their due weight. As must the legal system as a whole and the environment in which the legal system operates in. And what this operation means for certain bodies – race, gender, class – over others. We may also consider how similar cases have been decided. Every case is unique but there are patterns in legal decisions which cannot be ignored.

In discussing the Zimmerman trial, there are a couple of things that don’t need to be discussed: Such as the fact that so-called, “Black-on black” crime doesn’t get this much publicity. No, it doesn’t and why this is so is a different conversation for a different time. We don’t need to discuss whether Martin was a marijuana smoker or 3.7 GPA student or things of that nature. Those two things do not add or take away from the value of an individual’s life or make their life less or more worthy. We also don’t need to talk about what you as an individual would do if you saw Zimmerman if you believe that he was in fact guilty. (You shouldn’t do anything.) We don’t need to hear about how you are celebrating Zimmerman’s acquittal if you believe he was innocent because ultimately there is still a seventeen year-old boy who is dead in the ground and that fact never goes away.

The Zimmerman trial has opened up America’s often dark association with racism and race relations, like it or not. And that is something that must be confronted with an open mind and heart. I think that the nation also needs to review the specific laws that affect this case so that further tragedies can be avoided. In the end, we unfortunately mostly live in a reactionary system: We change only after tragedies have occurred. So perhaps another way to talk about the Zimmerman trial is to do self-reflection on our own beliefs, to promote fairness in how we treat all people, to advocate for a more educated society, a more just system, a more egalitarian world by treating those around us first and foremost with dignity and respect and as a Christian, I must add love.

At the end of the day, in matters of life we must act cautiously and always with the aim to safeguard and preserve it rather than potentially destroy and end it. And perhaps if we do so, the only good that can come out of this unfortunate death of a young life, is that we become a better people. It is just a pity that this life, this young life, who had family and friends and a future – which we must also not forget — had to die before you and I once again, have to have these sorts of conversations. TC mark

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