Vail Daily letter: Not so subtle message
Ryan Summerlin July 25, 2013
I appreciate Don Rogers’ willingness to acknowledge that his own experience as a white man impacts his perception of whether justice has been served in the acquittal of George Zimmerman.
However, his column entitled “A subtle race card” was not so subtle in expressing some problematic ideas about race and racism.
First, I had not heard of any calls for “lynching” Zimmerman until Rogers implied as much to open his column, and I would caution against casually invoking that word.
The vast majority of people reacting negatively to Zimmerman’s acquittal have done so through appropriate expressions of grief and outrage that are a part of legitimate democratic debate, and to conflate that with racist lynching is itself a violent minimization of our brutal national history.
Second, it’s true that Zimmerman is Hispanic, but the logic does not follow that he is immune to the racism that pervades our society. People of all backgrounds are routinely exposed to images and ideas that link young black men with criminality and violence and this impacts all of our perceptions, across racial and ethnic lines, even among those who have faced discrimination and oppression themselves.
I have repeatedly heard that Zimmerman is Hispanic, that he has black friends, that he is not intentionally or openly racist. None of that changes the distinct possibility that he saw a young black man walking down the street at night and made a wildly different set of assumptions than he might have made had he seen me, a white woman in my 30s, doing exactly the same thing.
Rogers’ column suggests we honor the due process afforded to Zimmerman as it has been examined and decided by a jury, but the cruel irony for those of us who cannot let it go at that is that Trayvon Martin was denied due process when it would have saved his life.
A neighborhood watch volunteer has no business engaging a “suspect,” no training in probable cause, and no right to use lethal force (even if Florida law permits otherwise!). We have a police force and justice system to avoid the deadly confrontation that ensued.
I would challenge Rogers that it’s not just the black community that hopes this case will require us to reflect on some things: race, violence, self-defense laws and gun use, to name a few. Any society that permits an armed person to engage and pursue an unarmed person, shoot and kill him, and then invoke self-defense creates a climate of impunity and vigilantism that is unacceptable to many of us across our diversity, precisely because we value the rule of law.
There is also the special pain felt by communities who have seen that their children’s lives and the blood they shed count for so little. I cannot know the black community´s pain, but my solidarity is with their outrage.