The trial is over, Mr. Zimmerman was found not guilty by a jury of murder in the second degree. Like it or not, our legal system has cranked out a decision and this phase of the story is over. The facts now are:
- a 17-year old boy, Trayvon Martin, is dead; shot and killed by an armed citizen;
- Mr. Zimmerman, the shooter, has been found not guilty of the crime of murder, and is free;
- Mr. Zimmerman can once again, if he so chooses, legally walk the streets with a gun;
- unless the U.S. Department of Justice brings a civil rights action, or the parents of Trayvon bring a civil suit, the story is over.
But is the story over? No - not by a long shot.
You see, every day - every day - people are killed by gun in this country. And every day - every single day - legal injustices are done to someone somewhere in this country. If you study the issues you will find ample and overwhelming information about gun deaths and the injustices of the legal system. People of color and/or poor people are most often the victims. This statement alone doesn't convey the magnitude and seriousness of the problem.
Racism is alive and well in America, and it's not just the George Zimmermans in our society. Racism has been institutionalized in this country to the point where it is difficult to see it and pin it down, but it is pervasive in our institutions. The American justice system, since the start of the Reagan War on Drugs, has become a system of mass incarceration of Black and Latino people, mostly young men.(Note 1) It should not be a surprise that Mr. Zimmerman was found not guilty; the Florida law is on his side. He has the right to "stand his ground" and protect himself, including the use of deadly force.
The death of Trayvon Martin is tragic, but it is not unusual; unfortunately, it is the norm in America. Yesterday, July 14, 2013, at least 41 people were killed by gun in America. The day before yesterday, July 13, 2013, at least 46 people were killed by gun in America. Since the Newtown killings on December 14, 2012, at least 6,210 deaths by gun have been reported. (Note 2) This is a massacre.
George Zimmerman was carrying a loaded gun the night he killed Trayvon Martin. I'm willing to bet that if he had not had a gun, Mr. Zimmerman would not have gotten out of his car, and would not have followed and confronted Trayvon Martin. A gun changes every potentially violent situation into a potential deadly situation. Mr. Zimmerman's gun changed a Neighborhood Watch Program into a Neighborhood Death Program.
America - Americans - need to come to grips with racism and gun control. We need to dismantle the institutionalized system of racism from top to bottom; this will not be easy. Many Americans think that we made great strides as a result of the Civil Rights movement. We did, in many ways, but unfortunately the old racism has been replaced by a new racism under which young Blacks and Latinos, mostly men, are swept up in a legal system designed to take them off the streets and turn them into second class citizens. Wars on drugs and wars on immigrants are cover for blatant societal racism, and we have to fight to end these faux wars and repair the tremendous damage done to these brothers and sisters in our communities.
And we absolutely need to end the epidemic of gun violence and death in America by establishing very firm control of the sale and possession of guns. A Neighborhood Watch volunteer has absolutely no business carrying a gun. In my opinion, there is no reason for anyone to carry a gun, unless they are going hunting or target shooting.
The killing of Trayvon Martin has captured the spotlight, but unfortunately, like so many other very important issues, I'm afraid it will soon be forgotten as our attention is directed to other things by the news media. What will it take to move forward from each tragedy and make needed change in this country? I don't know, but I'm trying to figure it out.
(1) An excellent book on the topic of institutionalized racism in America is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
(2) see the interactive gun death database at: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2012/12/gun_death_tally_every_american_gun_death_since_newtown_sandy_hook_shooting.html