The words “black” and “white” were never heard in the courtroom. But “the trial of George Zimmerman for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin was all about race,” said Paul Campos in Salon.com. From beginning to end, this tragic case revealed how black males are viewed by white Americans and the criminal justice system. Suppose, for a moment, that the roles of the two protagonists were reversed, and Martin was “a 230-pound, 30-year-old black man” with a gun who got into a struggle with an unarmed, 150-pound, 17-year-old white kid named Zimmerman. When the skinny white kid wound up dead, is there any chance that the nearly all-white jury would have bought “the big scary black man’s claim of ‘self-defense’”? For many African-Americans, Zimmerman’s acquittal “is beyond shocking, it is earth-shattering,” said Sophia Nelson in TheDailyBeast.com. It tells us that any black man can be lawfully shot dead if he’s deemed “suspicious.” Why don’t our white friends and co-workers understand how deeply alarming and disheartening this is?
“No one would have cared” had Martin been shot by another black teen, said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. This case only attracted the attention of the media and race-baiters because they saw it as an opportunity to indict America as a racist nation. Never mind that Zimmerman’s mother is Hispanic, or that the evidence showed he fired his weapon only after Martin climbed on top of him, punching him and pounding his head into the pavement. The “Zimmerman haters” didn’t care about facts or justice. “They wanted a racial morality play.” To create one, prosecutors and the media tried to turn Martin into a saint, said Jeffrey Kuhner in The Washington Times. They circulated a photo of him as “an angelic 12-year-old baby-faced boy.” But at the time of his death, Martin was a “6-foot-3 man-child with a history of drug use, who had been suspended several times from school.” If this “wannabe thug” had kept his cool and not tried to beat Zimmerman into a pulp, he’d still be alive today.
That kind of demonization is why African-Americans are so angry about this case, said Jonathan Capehart in The Washington Post. To avoid being thought of as dangerous thugs, black kids can’t smoke pot, wear hoodies, get into fights, or make any of the same mistakes as white teens. And if black men of any age do frighten white people, we were reminded in this trial, cops or armed civilians can punish them with the death penalty. “Be careful out there,” my 71-year-old mother wrote me in a text following the verdict. “I pray for your safety everyday.”
When Barack Obama was elected, said Jelani Cobb in NewYorker.com, some people saw it as proof that America’s racial divide had healed. But the fact that Martin was legally gunned down “in a country that elected and re-elected a black president” doesn’t diminish the black community’s despair, “it intensifies it.” It tells us that even though African-Americans have made huge progress, we are still outsiders in our own nation—guilty until proven innocent. Think of how it feels, said Jeneé Osterheldt in The Kansas City Star. When my husband goes out jogging in our suburban neighborhood after work, sometimes wearing a hoodie, I worry: Will an overzealous cop or vigilante see this “beautiful black man with a Colgate smile” as the Bible study leader and track coach that I married? Or will he look like just another “hoodlum to hunt”?