By Sophia Lindsey.
The acquittal of George Zimmerman left thousands of people heartbroken. Minutes after the verdict was spoken, haunting images from outside the court room in Florida began to flood our news channels. Men and women stood in disbelief, as tears of hurt and anger rushed down their faces. Some spoke to reporters, their voices unsteady, lamenting not only the injustice of this particular case, but also a deeper fear of what its outcome implied: That a white man can shoot a black teenager without there being any consequences, and that race still matters. It can even determine whether you live or die.
The emotional reactions to both the Trayvon Martin killing and the verdict that followed clearly show that racism is still a big issue – even as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and America is being led by a black president. Some have argued that the jury could not have ruled differently: After all, Zimmerman’s as well as Martin’s injuries backed up Zimmerman’s version of the night’s events, and in the end, there simply wasn’t enough evidence under Florida law for a conviction. While this is certainly a valid argument, its supporters are completely missing the point: If Trayvon Martin had been white, he would probably still be with us today.
I feel confident making this statement. Because while we may never know what exactly happened the night Martin was shot, there are some strong indications as to why it happened. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman, was the one who sought out Martin, not the other way around. The black teenager in the gray hoodie looked “suspicious,” Zimmerman said during the 911 call he issued, later adding: “These assholes always get away.” We know for certain that Zimmerman followed Martin, even though an officer had advised him not to do so. We also know that Martin was not armed. The 17-year-old was on his way home. These are facts. No amount of debating will change them.
Thinking of this case and the discussion it sparked makes other facts come to mind. Like the fact that the likelihood of going to prison in your lifetime is seven times higher if you are a black male than if you are a white male. You are also more likely to be sentenced to death: In 2003, more than 40 percent of the country’s death row inmates were black, even though they account for only 12 percent of the national population. Or the fact that the poverty rate for blacks is more than twice as high as the poverty rate for whites. And even the fact that a simple Cheerios commercial featuring an interracial couple and their young daughter can spark such harsh and hurtful racist remarks on Youtube that the company feels the need to disable the comments completely.
While statistics are shocking but easily forgotten, it is the personal attacks aimed at the little girl in the video, including references to “racial genocide” and “mongrels”, which continue to haunt me. We may dream of a colorblind society or a colorblind justice system, but in reality it is often skin color itself that renders us blind.
When the backlash against the video was at its peak, Christopher Colbert, the father of the six-year-old actress in the Cheerios commercial, spoke up: “I was really excited to have this type of reaction so we could see where we still stand in America,” he said in an interview with MSNBC. He did not say where. He didn’t have to. Because even though according to Census data, one out of ten couples in America is interracial, he was on TV for the sole reason that he was black and had a child with a white woman. That really says it all.
I still remember the day that George Zimmerman was acquitted. I was driving through the city on my way to work. The car radio was on. When they announced the news, I was so shocked I missed my exit. As I kept driving, trying to figure out where to go, the news reporter’s voice echoed in my mind. I kept thinking: Trayvon Martin should still be alive. And suddenly, I felt very lost.