The confrontation between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman that resulted in the death of Martin and the prosecution of Zimmerman is something I imagine a vast majority of Americans have some degree of familiarity with and opinions about. And while their lives and histories were 2,500 miles removed from mine, I somehow feel like I knew the two men.
Certainly, I have known their kind: the hip-hop and Hollywood-influenced wannabe gangsta and The "Dirty Harry"-influenced wannabe copper with a massive insecurity complex. But while either would have been perfect for a Tom Wolfe character sketch, neither was ideal for arousing sympathies; certainly, neither spoke to mine.
At least, not initially.
But as time passed I found myself more and more entrenched in one camp: George Zimmerman's.
Early on, this would have been most counterintuitive as I thought Zimmerman exhibited damn little in the way of common sense on the night of the incident. My preliminary conclusions were based upon what was reported in the news media (shame on me).
But as time passed and more and more actual facts related to the case became known, the less culpability I saw on the part of Zimmerman for what had transpired. True, I would not have conducted myself in the manner he had, as I've the benefit of having the kind of training and experience that Zimmerman did not possess.
More than that, I failed to see where anything that Zimmerman had done warranted his being attacked by Trayvon Martin, particularly in such a vicious manner as was described by Zimmerman to detectives during his walk-through of the crime scene. Having written elsewhere of a fight I'd had as a young man wherein my attacker attempted a concrete dermabrasion of my scalp, I can tell you that there is something viscerally terrifying about having one's head put to something so unforgiving as hardened cement.
In my case, that profound sense of terror gave me an adrenaline rush that allowed me to not only get away from my attacker but kick his ass, as well. Zimmerman's posture was too physically constrained at the time of his attack, and he resorted to the only recourse he had—the defensive use of his firearm.
To my mind, if Zimmerman had intended to kill Trayvon, he simply could have shot the young man in the first place and constructed an excuse to validate his actions. Certainly, he would not have had to allow his head to be pummeled against the sidewalk. And I couldn't help but wonder if it wouldn't have been more prudent for Trayvon to have used his fingers to call the police on Zimmerman instead of putting them to work in trying to make the man's head fuse with the concrete.
These concerns were only exacerbated once the trial itself commenced and a variety of witnesses of equally varying candor were added to the drama. The more that I monitored the proceedings, the more incredulous I became that our alleged judicial system put Zimmerman at center stage and the more contempt I felt for those who'd orchestrated this farce.
As I am naturally inclined toward the underdog, the more the cards I saw being stacked against Zimmerman, the more ardent my support became. Zimmerman may have had stupidly rendered himself needlessly vulnerable to an attack, but since when has bad judgment been cause for someone to be tried for murder, an act whose corpus delicti requires specific intent?
I couldn't see it.
Einstein's famous definition of insanity as "doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results" had play here. And while there is an undeniable virulence entrenched in the proceedings, Zimmerman was hardly patient zero. We have seen this type of tragedy before and will doubtlessly see it again. It gave rise to the whole Tawana Brawley outrage; it led to the outrageous persecutions and prosecutions of Duke Lacrosse players Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans. It shares the same DNA as the nullification practices that get murderers like O.J. Simpson off scot free, and lionizes cop killers like Mumia Abu Jamal and Assata Shakur.
Its pathogens are exploiters, enablers, and subscribers to these fantasies; often, they are scumbag prosecutors, dirtbag mayors, parasitical controverts, and the throngs who love a parade.
But for these things to coalesce they need to be able to take seed and germinate, and no soil is more fertile than some fundamental belief system that is already in place. It is a mindset that is perhaps best illustrated by an anecdote.
In 1977, Richard Pryor appeared at a gay benefit concert, ostensibly to help raise money for the cause. Warmly welcomed with a hearty round of applause, Pryor proceeded to surprise his audience by castigating them, asking those in attendance where they'd been during the Watts riots before basically yelling "F*** Y**!" to the lot of them.
Pryor's blow-up sums up one fundamental aspect of human nature, particularly as it relates the omnipresent question at the back of our minds when we regard one another: What have you done for me lately?
Nowhere is this question more routinely indulged in our country than when it comes to race and there are huge constituencies that will seemingly forever be resentful of past horrors to the degree that they will fail to get beyond them. That they find ancillary profit in excoriating society due to these beliefs only solidifies their posture.
This astigmatism is a source of vexation on multiple fronts, not only because it repeatedly finds the wrong people being victimized for it, but because so many of the attending contentions are easily refuted.
When it comes to those who implicitly ask the question and explicitly answer it each and every time they shout, "If the races were reversed, then Trayvon would've been convicted!" I would suggest that these folks take a look at Roderick Scott, a man who has been referred to as the black George Zimmerman for having been arrested, charged—albeit for manslaughter—and acquitted after shooting two white males who were breaking into his neighbors' cars.
Following Pryor's example, I would ask the "embarrassed to be an American" Toni Braxton where her outrage was in the aftermath of O.J.'s acquittal. And to those who would decry me as having a racist agenda herein, if that was the case, what about my history of ardently advocating the decriminalization of many drugs knowing that many young black males would be emancipated back to society?
How much more profitable would things be in the long run if these constituencies would instead indulge in a little necessary introspection and reevaluate postures that are so entirely predicated upon the complexions of people involved.
Part of me finds the whole race thing pretty specious. How many Americans of African heritage can trace their ancestry with any certitude of knowing just where they came from and, therefore, just how much they have in common with the man who may share their complexion but little else (I'm a mixed mutt myself, and frankly don't really place a huge premium on any aspect of my European heritage).
Still, another part of me is every bit as guilty of thinking racially as any other American. It conspicuously colors my take on things. I find myself wondering where are the civil rights activists in the black community who will speak up against the wrongs being perpetrated against non-black people by the African-American community.
Meanwhile, with each parade of judicial travesty aided and abetted by some asshole mayor or defending gun-jumping champ Al Sharpton, more and more non-blacks get increasingly calloused to the suggestion that there is some great conspiracy at work against the black community. And herein lies the true danger to that segment of the population: That like the boy who cried wolf such false accusations and false alarms may make the non-black public complacent and apathetic toward real racism and actual atrocities committed against African-Americans.
And that, my friends, is the problem with all this trumped up race-baiting.