Was Zimmerman Really Racially MotivatedAn analysis of the Trayvon Martin case and our society
The coverage of the Trayvon Martin incident has recently reached its peak. Unfortunately, it took weeks after the incident for it to gain national attention. Months later and it has now sparked media outlets internationally. The case is tragic but its occurrence is not anything new. Trayvon, an unarmed seventeen-year-old African American teen was shot and killed for looking “suspicious” and the offender wasn’t initially charged or arrested. Earlier on in that same month an eighteen year old, Ramarley Graham was shot and killed by police officers in his own home for “suspicion” of carrying drugs and a gun. He was unarmed and had a bag of marijuana, but his killing only led to the suspension of the officers. Six years ago unarmed Sean Bell was shot multiple times by police a day before his wedding. The officers were acquitted of manslaughter charges. Seven years prior to that was the case of Amadou Diallo, shot 19 times by police officers because they mistook his wallet for a gun. He was unarmed and had no criminal record, yet the officers were acquitted of murder. Senseless shootings of black men has been going on for decades and they are angering the black community more and more.
Trayvon Martin’s death has sparked rallies and protests like the Million Hoodie March in Union Square, where hundreds gathered seeking justice for the teen. It has taken the interest of celebrities and politicians. Many celebrities, such as Sean ‘P.Diddy’ Combs, Mos Def, The Miami Heat and Jamie Fox, expressed their support by posting pictures on Twitter wearing hoodies, insisting that they too are Trayvon Martin. Music soul legend Chaka Khan created a song and music video featuring various celebs in tribute to Trayvon. And recently, President Obama received attention for a statement saying, “If I had a son, He’d look like Trayvon.”
It begs the question: Was this a case illustrating the existing racism in our society? Is a perpetrator of racial profiling also a racist? Does one supersede the other? George Zimmerman’s family claims that he was purely acting out of self-defense, and isn’t capable of racist antics because, as a Latino man, he is a minority himself. Although it is nonsensical to believe that a Hispanic person cannot be racist, it is still problematic to call Zimmerman a racist. When looking at the facts of the case there is no way of knowing if he’s racist. He didn’t use racial slurs, and he didn’t even acknowledge Trayvon’s race during his 911 call until he was asked by the dispatcher. Daily News provided a partial of the phone conversation in which Zimmerman says, “This guy looks like he's up to no good. Or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about." The 911 operator then asks if he is black, white or Hispanic which Zimmerman responds, “he looks black.”
Racial profiling, however, is more fit- ting for this case because it was Trayvon’s appearance and way of dress that most likely made him “look suspicious.” In the gated community he was visiting, it was his appearance that made it seem like “he didn’t belong.” I think in a court law it would be more justified to say that Zimmerman is guilty of racial profiling than to say that he perpetrated a racial hate crime.
But I think the more pressing issue is that of the Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. The Stand Your Ground law, also present in 20 other states, states “a person has right to use deadly force if they presume fear of death or great bodily harm.” This law made it possible for Zimmerman to believe it was right for him to shoot Trayvon, because during the physical altercation Trayvon could have caused him bodily harm.
In an interview with Bill Cosby, the actor, author and activist said that it was more of a gun issue than a race issue. In the Washington Post he claimed, “Without a gun, I don’t see Mr. Zimmerman ap- proaching Trayvon by himself. The power- of-the-gun mentality had him unafraid to confront someone.” But I think the focus on the gun is steering away from the real problem. This isn’t a debate on whether one should have a licensed gun for self-protection, it is the ways in which that gun is used and the rights that one has under the law to use it. It brings us back to the Stand Your Ground law that not only gave him claim to do what he did but prevented him from getting arrested for the murder. Since the law lets police on the scene de- cide whether or not the self-defense claim is accurate, Zimmerman’s story to the police is all that allowed him to walk away from murder.
Florida State Senator Chris Smith claims that he is preparing a bill that would not allow a self-defense claim in cas- es where the shooter appeared to provoke the victim, stating, “Stand your ground appears to be giving suspects better protec- tions from arrest and prosecution than in- creased security measures for the citizens the law was originally intended to protect.” The intended bill would also limit legal use of lethal force to places such as the per- son’s home, car or workplace. I think these revisions to the bill would help, but there are certainly loopholes that could cause other deadly situations to arise. The Stand your ground law is a law that seemingly had good intentions but proved to be more faulty. It should be abolished and it is the center of the problem.
As for Zimmerman, whether he was racially profiling or not, the fact of the matter is that he provoked an altercation which later got an unarmed teen killed. For that he should have to face the appro- priate punishment.