We are so programmed by our history with race in America that reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman on charges of murdering Trayvon Martin depends largely upon one’s individual, even group experience.
If you are African-American, you might react like former Washington, D.C., homicide detective Rod Wheeler. Appearing on Fox News, Wheeler said many blacks look at quarterback Michael Vick, jailed for taking part in an illegal interstate dog-fighting ring, and wonder why Zimmerman gets away with killing a young black man.
If you are white, or Hispanic, you could possibly see the trial as something whipped up by the always racially conscious media and rhetorical bomb-throwers like Rev. Al Sharpton. You might conclude that if the victim had been white and the perpetrator black, the media would have shown little or no interest. Or you could point to O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted of killing two white people by a majority African-American jury.
Your view would be reinforced by a case in Georgia in which four African-American teenagers beat a 36-year-old white man as he emerged from a gas station convenience store. While trying to escape, the man stumbled into the middle lane of a highway where he was struck by a car and killed. The Marietta Daily Journal reported that the four are charged with felony murder, aggravated assault and violation of the Georgia Street Gang Act. The incident occurred two weeks ago, but I have seen no national media coverage.
As defense lawyers noted after the Zimmerman verdict, the loss of any life, especially a young one like Trayvon Martin, is a tragedy, but tragedy and race were not on trial in Sanford, Fla. Putting all extraneous considerations aside, the jury of six women was asked if there was sufficient evidence presented by the prosecution to convict George Zimmerman of murder or manslaughter. The jury found there was not.
The Justice Department says it will look into the shooting death of Martin to determine if evidence in the case “reveals a prosecutable violation.” That may turn out to be more of a political decision than one based on facts. It would likely perpetuate the media narrative of blacks as victims and whites (one CNN reporter ludicrously called Zimmerman a “white Hispanic”) as descendants of slave masters.
What helps keep us divided is our propensity for labeling and categorizing people. Certain behaviors and language are tolerated, while others are not. Some people can get away with language that others cannot. Some faiths can be disparaged while others are insulated from criticism. We hyphenate some Americans, making them appear as though they are less than fully American.
What is needed is one standard. One national identity. One America. We’re not there yet.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family, compared Trayvon’s death to those of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers. Any attempt to turn Trayvon into a civil rights martyr similar to Till and Evers goes well beyond the apples and oranges analogy. More to the point was a comment by Zimmerman’s attorney Don West: “The prosecution of George Zimmerman was disgraceful.” The defense believes he should never have been brought to trial. Co-defense counsel Mark O’Mara speculated about “how many lawsuits will be spawned by this fiasco.”
Probably quite a few, given our never-ending racial double standard. As both sides noted during and after the trial, there are no winners in this case.
Email Cal Thomas at tmseditors@ tribune.com.