The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin Continues

by: EJ on 07/18/2013
Posted in: Activism

As thousands take to the street this week to protest George Zimmerman's acquittal, several leading thinkers are speaking out on their blogs.  Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners magazine, wrote Lament from a  White Father on Tuesday July 16th.

"It was a political, legal, and moral mistake to not put race at the center of this trial because it was at the center from the beginning of this terrible case. Many are now saying, “There was a trial; the results must be accepted.” How well the case against George Zimmerman was prosecuted, how fair the tactics of the defense were, the size and selection of the jury, how narrowly their instructions were given — all will be the subject of legal discussions for a very long time.

But while the legal verdicts of this trial must be accepted, the larger social meaning of court cases and verdicts must be dealt with, especially as they impact the moral quality of our society.

This is not just about verdicts but also about values. 

And the impact of race in and on this case, this trial, and the response to it around the country must now all be centrally addressed."

In an interview on Aljazeera, Margaret Burnham, a law professor at Northeastern University says, "race explains this case, so it's impossible to say that we have the best justice system in the world, that it is as good as it could be ... when it's not a system that can recognise the critical importance that race plays at every step along the way today."

People took to the streets following the announcement of the verdict but, contrary to predictions, these were not violent protests.  Mother Jones magazine published a series of photos of actions around the country.  As the photos show, these were largely peaceful demonstrations of anger and disappointment.

This case shows once again how deeply ingrained racism is in our society.  Author Paul Kivel has spent over 45 years working with groups and individuals to help them recognize the pervasiveness of racism in our society.  In his book, Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, he includes a simple checklist of white benefits - "My ancestors came to this country of their own free will; I was encouraged to attend college or university; I don't need to think about race everyday;  I can choose when and where I want to respond to racism."  Then he includes simple exercises to help you identify hidden racism in your community. "Analyse your community. Which parts are presently de facto segregated ie) neighbourhoods, schools, recreational facilities. Which of these do you participate in?  What individual acts help keep this segregation in place?  Note specific institutional practices and pick one that you will work on with others to change."

It is hard to act against racism when you are not even aware it is there.  As Paul Kivel says about people in his neighbourhood, "My ignorance and subsequent inaction contributes to their exploitation, discrimination and scapegoating.  I become a partner in racism, a collaborator in injustice."

Perhaps the jurors in the Trayvon Martin case were ignorant of the role race had to play. Or perhaps, as Jim Wallis suggests, the racism lay in the way the trial was set up and how the jury was selected.  Either way, it was obvious to the people who came out to protest the verdict, that racism is alive and well and was at work at this trial.


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