I wish I could have some sharp response to the Martin verdict except profound sadness. I can see two things clearly: when there are no witnesses but the two individuals involved in a fight, and the victim is dead, and you live in a state that provides “stand your ground” immunity for self-defense, then proving a murder beyond a reasonable doubt is hard. I’m not going to second-guess the jurors, except to say the obvious: if that were a jury of Trayvon’s peers, then I’m a heterosexual.
Equally, I found the way in which many elements on the right brandished their relish at seeing Zimmerman vindicated was more repellent than the identity politics faction that politicized the case. A young black man was dead, after he was clearly racially profiled, followed and challenged. Those facts alone should, in my view, lead to nothing but sadness, not a gleeful turn on the racial merry-go-round.
I didn’t follow the trial that closely largely because of that. There’s no way any of us can know precisely what happened in that violent interaction, except that Zimmerman clearly made a decision that led directly to it. But when an all-white jury in America finds a “white” man innocent of killing an unarmed black man, the resonances are simply undeniable.
The “stand-your-ground” law – when it interacts with race – can come perilously close to a return to the right to lynch black men in America – just for being be in the wrong place at the wrong time, for doing nothing wrong, except wearing a hoodie and carrying some Skittles. Perhaps the best way to react now is to raise awareness about these laws that all but sanction murder because in a one-on-one conflict, in which there are no reliable witnesses and in which one of the individuals is dead, reasonable doubt is a very hard hurdle to overcome. This verdict may give some racist vigilantes encouragement to single out and murder black men with a sense of impunity. That is simply unacceptable, to put it mildly. It is a terrifying reminder of how the past can become present again.
We must respect the jury’s decision. But we need not respect that law. And, unless we are to return to the era of lynching, it needs to be repealed.