Guilty as Charged

Trayvon_MartinI’m going to try and keep this as short as possible, because even though I have a lot to say, I’ve said so much of it time and time again, and I’m sick of repeating myself. Just hours ago, the verdict came in on the Trayvon Martin murder case. George Zimmerman, the man who admitted to shooting the unarmed teenager, was found not guilty of murder. And not guilty of manslaughter. And not guilty of a modern day lynching, which when you really examine what happened, is exactly what happened. Trayvon Martin was lynched, and Zimmerman was acquitted of the crime because—and let’s be totally honest here—the life of a 17-year-old black kid has no value and no importance in this country. None. Nada. Not a single bit of value as a human being, because no matter what any of us may say to the contrary, black people as a whole in this country have been deprived of their humanity. Florida just reminded us of what we all know, or should know—but really wish wasn’t true—and that’s this simple fact: America doesn’t care about niggers, and as a group, all of us black folk are niggers.

This is not to say that all white Americans hate all black people, but as a nation, we have yet to fully bestow on black people their humanity. Some of us have been given it on an individual level, by other individuals, but people of African descent were stripped of their humanity as a means to justify slavery, and even though slavery has been abolished—or at least partially abolished (because the current prison system suggests something to the contrary)—humanity has not been something restored to people of color. Black people were enslaved because racial ideologies in this country created a system of racial inferiority and superiority, in which blacks were inferior. This is not an opinion, but a fact, and all it takes is close reading of history to better understand the long-term, multigenerational impact of this ideological construct. The result is that white people, or someone like Zimmerman, who is perceived as white, despite his Peruvian ancestry, are superior to black people like Trayvon Martin, which is why Zimmerman got away with killing Martin. As a black person, Trayvon Martin was not a human being, period. Just like Emmet Till was not a human being. Just like all the black people who were lynched, or forced into slavery for life were not human beings.

I wish I could say that I was surprised by the verdict in this case, but as the trail wore on, I felt the inevitable outcome gnawing in the pit of stomach. In America, we pride ourselves on the concept of “innocent until proven guilty,” which sounds really good, along with phrases like “all men are created equal,” and all that stuff about inalienable rights, and blah blah blah. But the fact of the matter is that presumed innocence is a luxury largely afforded to the same select few that the Constitution of the United States was drafted to protect. If you don’t know what that means, or who the Constitution was really written for, then I suggest you bone up on your history.

The point that I’m getting at is that the presumption of innocence brings with it the presumption that someone must be guilty—and therein lies a paradoxical flaw of the criminal justice system. If the accused is to be presumed innocent, then someone must be guilty. And in Florida, we just saw how that plays out in the court of law. George Zimmerman was not on trial so much as Trayvon Martin was on trial. In finding Zimmerman innocent, Martin was found guilty. Never mind the fact that Martin was the victim. I mean let’s really think about this. The ONLY way Zimmerman can be innocent is if Martin was guilty of something that justified his being killed. An armed adult killed an unarmed teenager, and a jury decided it was the victim’s fault.

This is where the real problem in America starts to come into the light. The same ideological constructs that favors white men in this country, also serves to bestow upon them the presumption of innocence. But with that great gift, someone must always face the presumption of guilt. How many women have suffered sexual assaults, only to face allegations that they somehow did something wrong or provoked their attack? How many black have been brutalized and murdered, because they acted inappropriately around white people? Those of us who can be counted amongst the oppressed—by virtue of race, gender, or sexual identity—know all too well that when we accuse people of oppressing us, the burden of proof is on us. Women must prove that they are the victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. People of color must prove that they are the victims of racial discrimination. A system that places burden of proof on the victim is a broken system built on oppression and ideological constructs, with clearly defined roles of who is inferior and who is superior.

At the end of the day, the burden of proof was placed on Trayvon Martin to prove that his murder was not justified. Unfortunately, this country does not favor people like Trayvon Martin. Instead, he is not the victim, but the attacker. He died because he deserved to die, because he was a threat to the safety of a man with a gun. I’ve read several analyses of the case, and what some people have tried to put across is that the only two people who know what happened in this case are George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, and at the end of the day, there was not enough proof that Zimmerman acted in the wrong. I would counter by saying that we all know what happened in this case: Zimmerman, a man with a gun, killed Martin, a teenager without a gun. There is not nearly as much nuance to be found here as some people would like to believe. One person took the life of another person, and the judicial system in the state of Florida made this a case about who was guilty of a crime. Sadly, the guilty party was the kid who was gunned down.

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