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A Critical Look At Oppression: The Exoneration Of Trayvon Martin's Killer

By Timothy Dwight Smith

23 July, 2013

February 26, 2012, 7:16:55pm, with a backdrop of light rain and pitch-black darkness, a 9mm hollow-point bullet pierced the chest of a 17-year-old Black teenager from Miami, Florida. Less than fifteen minutes later, the victim was pronounced dead by paramedics. The police found no weapons on the teenager, only a watermelon fruit drink and snack candy tucked in the pocket of his hoodie sweatshirt. The victim’s cellphone was found strewn on the grass just a few feet away from his lifeless body. The rain drizzle and darkness would only be a foreshadowing of the convoluted details and numerous deceits revealed in the days following. Trayvon Benjamin Martin was officially a statistic.

From the moment Trayvon Martin was born to the second he died, the events of his life and premature death were shaped and transformed by the social construct of race. Before the Sanford, Florida police even knew his name they classified him as an unknown “Black” victim. A similar designation was given to identify his body when it arrived at the coroner’s office later that evening; a “Black” John Doe.

American racism has always been a tale of blood, money, and power. It was the introduction of African people on the North American continent which triggered European settlers to create a class system based primarily on skin complexion and hair texture. These “founding fathers” utilized a color spectrum which subsumed the darkest African to the palest European, the darker the shade of skin, the lower one occupied in this social construct. This marginalization of human beings and their ethnicity was simply the latest European invention in their long catalogue of disrespect to cultures around the world.

Science has since refuted every attempt to push forward such racial illusions as evidence of the genetic inferiority of non-white human beings. Race is not determined by a single gene or gene cluster, and there exists no gene or gene cluster possessed by Whites that does not exist for Blacks, or anyone else for that matter. In addition, there’s greater genetic variation within populations labeled Black and White than between them.

With such evidence clearly at the fore of serious science, there can be no dispute that race is not biological, but sociological in construct, and this categorization of human life has always been for the purpose of oppressing non-whites.

The American stigmatization, i.e. “niggerization” of dark skin has not only psychologically and economically caused great harm to people of African descent, but has created a false image in the minds of millions around the world.

This distorted image began to be formulated during the nation’s infancy with propaganda of the happy Sambo (slave), smiling ear-to-ear, with all his teeth exposed, buck dancing for the slave master, as an attempt to transform the disgusting nature of American slavery. This type of dishonesty was printed in American school books, but I suppose deceit was necessary for Whites to explain genocide to their children.

Because if the slave wasn’t happy, then something must be wrong with slavery, and if something was wrong with slavery, then something had to be wrong with the Master, the facilitator of slavery. All were true. The herding of human life for money betrayed the common bond of human decency and exposed the moral and psychological depravity of Europeans in the New World.

The countless variations of these falsehoods have endured in the subsequent generations since those early years. The Black man and woman have been “niggerized” into the stud, the whore, the dummy, the clown, the joker, the addict and the thug. Many Whites continue to use these lenses to view African-Americans. But who’s really the nigger, the oppressor or the one being oppressed? The idea that the oppressor does no harm to himself in the transaction of racial hatred is a false premise. Oppression destroys the souls of both parties involved, leaving both less human.

These racial inequities of prejudice and stereotype play out in real time as every American institution is plugged into the infrastructure of racism and racial fear. The mass incarceration of African-American men illustrates this phenomenon; most are charged with non-violent offenses like drug possession, but receive much harsher penalties than their White counterparts. Prisons are flooded with Black men serving time for crimes they should’ve never been charged with or convicted of.

This disproportionate set of circumstances fuels the media’s obsession with broadcasting Black men doing the “perp” walk as cameras flash, thus concretizing in the minds of the world the false notion of Black men’s propensity for criminality. But according to the government’s own data, it is Whites who commit the most crime and use and sell the most drugs. In contrast, Whites serve the least amount of jail and prison time for their offenses compared to all other racial groups. Such information paints a clear picture of reality, and makes racial profiling of African-Americans by law enforcement and every-day citizens that much more puzzling to understand.

The politics of race polarized the country in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s slaying for no greater reason than the realization by some and the denial by others of the continued racial oppression suffered by African-Americans at the hands of America’s power structure. But Trayvon Martin is not responsible for the racial animus and hostility which exists in America, his death is merely the most recent catalyst to illustrate to the world that America’s most infectious disease, racism, is not only alive but metastasizing by the hour.

This history of racial intolerance is what led Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, to telephone the Sanford police department at 7:09pm the evening of February 26th 2012.

Martin’s crime? Walking while Black.

During Zimmerman's four minute and seven second phone conversation with the non-emergency dispatcher, Zimmerman describes Martin as: “suspicious”, “up to no good”, “on drugs or something”, “Black”, “looking at all the houses”, “has his hand in his waistband”, “he’s a Black male”, “something’s wrong with him”, “these assholes, they always get away”, and “fucking punks.”

Clearly these words indicate Zimmerman’s level of racial fear, suspicion and perceived superiority. This is a man who had bought in fully to the distorted racial prejudices and stereotypes of Black masculinity. Martin’s mere presence, walking down the street, represented an affront to Zimmerman’s peace of mind. How does one arrive at such a place of paranoia?

Trayvon Martin is dead because George Zimmerman’s fears became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Zimmerman suspected Martin of a crime and believed it was his duty to follow and question him in the dark of night. This possibly triggered a negative response from Martin considering the environment (dark and rainy) coupled with the understanding Martin no doubt possessed, which all Black men do, of the fragile nature of their own lives, especially when placed in close proximity to unknown White men in the dark. Perpetrators of violent White racism have always preferred the cover of darkness to commit their acts of aggression.

In this context, it is reasonably understood why Trayvon Martin struck Zimmerman, even if it was a preemptive strike.

Who would dare say Martin didn’t feel threatened? Who can say he didn’t believe his life was in danger? Why then do the laws of self-defense not apply to a young Black male who possessed no weapon besides his hands? Are Black people not allowed to feel their lives are in danger? Is that against societal rules?

The Black male is so ensconced in the mythology of White fear that he is perceived as a dangerous animal to be hunted, and never justified in defending himself under any circumstances.

It was these myths that George Zimmerman’s defense lawyers exorcised in convincing a jury of five White females jurors and one Hispanic to acquit their client of murder.

The defense team smuggled race into the trial at the outset when they fought to get pictures of Trayvon Martin in evidence that they could use to portray him as a thug.

The cross-examination of Martin’s friend, Rachel Jeantel, further kept the issue of race front and center. Jeantel was positioned to look her worst. The defense fully understood Jeantel’s unsophisticated presentation played directly into racial stereotypes of the Black underclass.

The defense also chose to question Martin’s parents. Cross-examining a victim’s loved ones is a tactic usually avoided by attorneys. But even in mourning, and while enduring the stress of coping with their murdered son, the defense wasted no opportunity to demonstrate to the jury who they believed deserved respect and dignity, and who did not.

A young White woman was called to testify about being victimized by Black perpetrators. Her testimony was an obvious attempt to legitimize Zimmerman’s racial profiling of Trayvon Martin. But Trayvon Martin committed no crime. The racial playbook was being followed to a tee: A White woman testifying to a nearly all-White female jury that they too had reason to fear Black men and trust George Zimmerman’s lies.

Similar tactics are used year-after-year to prosecute African-Americans all across the country with less evidence than was presented against George Zimmerman. This is why the state of Florida failed to get justice for the Martin family. Their playbook was commandeered by Zimmerman’s defense team to paint Trayvon Martin, as an out of control thug and potential criminal. They successfully placed the victim on trial.

Meanwhile, the prosecution ran from race when race was everywhere. Florida prosecutors decided to avoid race and hide behind the national façade of colorblindness. They wanted to shield themselves from the disease of race so that they wouldn’t appear racist to the jury and the world; they clung to folly and chose to court denial rather than justice.

If any state in America understands the notion of racial colorblindness to be the idealistic fantasies of the ignorant, misguided, and misinformed, Florida does. But to admit the impact race plays in shaping public perception of who is the criminal and who is the victim, would’ve been commiserate with placing the entire criminal justice system on trial, a task the state of Florida had no intentions of undertaking. Even if it meant allowing a murderer to walk free.

Perhaps the courageous among us still number but few, and fear and distrust yet occupies a higher plain than love and honor.

Trayvon Martin’s life remains an open book. What will we write on the pages? Will we close it unfinished?

This moment in time, in this place called America, a land of disparate cultures and desperate people, collectively, will we choose to stand up and fight to ensure every child has an opportunity to honor their Creator by fulfilling the fullness of their potential?

Or will we allow this young man’s death to be a mere footnote in the exhaustive volumes of unlearned lessons in human history?

Timothy Dwight Smith is a nationally published journalist. He may be reached at timothy.smith@washburn.edu






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