It’s been more than a week, and the anger still burns.
It upsets my stomach, disturbs my sleep, and forces me to spend way too much time thinking about the unthinkable. It has been a weight on my chest all week, squeezing the everyday joys from my life as it squeezes the air from my lungs.
It is the righteous anger of justice denied. It is my conscience screaming at me to say something — to lend my voice to the millions who can no longer remain silent in the face of hatred. I cannot ignore that anger, and I cannot deny the purity of its reasons.
A boy was killed because he looked suspicious — suspicious meaning Black. He was killed because he dressed like people his killer regarded as a subhuman menace. He was killed because he didn’t immediately capitulate to his murderer’s random interrogation or seek to answer his patronizing questions with the proper genuflection and an enthusiastic, “Yassuh, boss!”
The boy was murdered not for what he did, or even for who he was, but for what he looked like. That a jury of his murderer’s peers saw fit to return him to the bosom of his loving community by returning a verdict of not guilty does not make him less of a monster. You cannot win an acquittal from the truth.
And here’s the truth: a wannabe cop lacking in both skills and courage finds that he’s only qualified to serve and protect his own little gated community. Seeing an opportunity to assert his imagined authority on a Black kid minding his own business by playing ‘Harass the Negro’ (a fun-filled pastime enjoyed by authority figures everywhere) Mr. Wannabe gets upset when the negro in question refuses to play along.
Now his manhood is at stake, his cowardice is about to be exposed. He escalates. No snot-nosed little punk is going to give him backtalk and get away with it. He pushes, the kid pushes back harder — and Mr. Wannabe now knows he bit off more than he can chew. Now there’s only one solution. He fires.
Trayvon Martin is dead, and George Zimmerman gets to walk away, twirling his gun on his finger before slapping it back in the holster — ready for next time.
The same people who clucked angrily and shook their heads in disgust when there were celebrations following O.J. Simpson’s acquittal find themselves unapologetically giddy now that the shoe is on the other foot. Blind to their own hypocrisy, they now gleefully crow about how the system works, and how justice was done, and how the jury is always right.
I agree with them on that one point. The justice system in this case worked exactly as it is designed to work.
For nearly 400 years Black victims have been undervalued, and Black defendants have been overcharged. Black people who commit crimes are treated quite differently from their white counterparts — from arrest to charging to courts to incarceration. Black victims are treated differently too, and are told to “get over it” in a hundred ways that would never be said to a white victim. Because that’s how the system works.
We Black parents know that it’s imperative to explain to our children, especially our sons, how to behave in the presence of police officers to keep them from being killed on the spot — a conversation I’ll bet very few White parents are forced to have.
What we’re not going to do, no matter what, is now tell our children that all White people are authority figures and they should sheepishly comply when questioned by random White people on the street. We’re not going to tell them to sacrifice their dignity for every testosterone-fueled jerk who jumps out of his pickup truck and demands a tap dance for his entertainment. Sorry.
The massive rioting and looting in Black communities so boldly predicted by right-wing pinheads if Zimmerman was acquitted hasn’t happened, and isn’t likely to. That was the reaction they expected, and in many ways, were prepared for.
They weren’t prepared for the genuine outpouring of emotion, the peaceful demonstrations, the demand for simple justice. They weren’t prepared for the sheer numbers of heartfelt demonstrators and heartbroken petitioners, and they weren’t prepared for so many of them to be White.
Millions are now angry because by working as designed, our system failed Trayvon Martin since the moment he saw Zimmerman tailing him — and failed him on purpose. And they’re angry because as long as that remains true, we can never live up to our nation’s sacred promise of liberty and justice for all.
And that anger will burn for quite some time.
Daryl Gale is the city editor for The Philadelphia Tribune.