The reaction to the verdict in the jury trial of George Zimmerman has been very widespread, and not necessarily terribly surprising. The victim, being an African American teenager, has sparked a debate about race, racial profiling, and the mistaken perceptions that still seem to persist in our culture when it comes to people of color, particularly to African Americans. The President felt it was important enough for him to address the issue, in spite of the fact that he knew his political opponents would jump on anything he said, and try to use it against him. And the whole trial revolves around a controversial Florida law, “Stand your Ground”, that directly relates to an individual carrying a loaded gun, and legally being able to use it, so it is a gun control issue.
The Discussion about Race
It is pretty obvious that having this discussion about the racial aspects of this case are necessary. To call this “race baiting,” or accuse those who are protesting the verdict of “playing the race card” is absolute evidence of a lack of understanding of the past history of racism in this country, and a lack of awareness that it still exists today, even though a lot of progress has been made. Race still plays a role in opportunity in this country, a fact that is verified by hard evidence across a wide variety of categories, including employment, and the criminal justice system. How many white teenagers have been shot to death because they were suspected of being about to commit a crime, and were walking through a gated community wearing a hoodie? I don’t think there have been any, and even if there were a few, I don’t think any of the shooters got off by pleading self-defense behind the protection of a quirky law that is not consistently enforced.
In the politically charged and polarized atmosphere that exists in the country today, pushed by a few media types who profit from keeping a small group of people stirred up, I am not sure that the discussion that is taking place will accomplish a whole lot. It’s going to take people from all parts of the racial spectrum, first to acknowledge that there is still a problem, and second, to take steps to resolve it. There are a lot of white Christians who see the problem, but don’t step up to do anything about it because they fear what their friends might say, or that they will get labeled by some nefarious political term like “liberal,” when the fact of the matter is that this issue has nothing to do with either political conservatism or liberalism. Those who throw those kinds of accusations around are conceding that they have nothing of value to contribute to the debate or discussion and they prefer to keep the status quo in place rather than risk change.
The “Stand Your Ground” Law Discussion
I don’t believe much consideration was given to the effects of laws like Florida’s “stand your ground” in their practical application. The standard defense of them is that they give ordinary citizens the ability to defend themselves against the commission of a crime that affects them, or that they see happening. They are, generally, laws which promote the private, concealed carrying of weapons, which is why this has become a right wing political issue, and why it has been necessary to choose sides and become hypercritical of the prosecution, and ultimately, to make a gangster out of Trayvon Martin.
There is real fear that all of this attention will impact “stand your ground” laws negatively. There are a lot of states where galvanizing the opposition, and giving them a reason to turn out and vote in the mid-term elections would lead to a change in the party in power. Florida is one of those. Regardless of that, there’s never anything wrong with a lot of people having a lot of discussion, even if it is heated discussion, on the laws of their state and their importance. No one should be afraid of that, everyone should welcome the opportunity. Maybe this will break some of the gridlock we’ve seen in recent years.
Opportunity for a Positive Outcome
I can’t speak for Trayvon’s parents, but I think they would feel that their son’s death was not in vain if something positive in the way of race relations comes out of it. It would be a great legacy for a seventeen year old to leave behind if his death prompted a discussion that led to some real solutions of real problems in this country. There’s no way to go except forward and up.