Fear Wins In Florida

March for Trayvon Martin, Richmond VA, 7/14/2013

March for Trayvon Martin, Richmond VA, 7/14/2013

If you followed the Zimmerman case at all, you could see the verdict that was coming, that was in some ways inevitable. Remember Sanford, Florida is the town where the cops were ready to set George Zimmerman free rather than bother with the niceties of a trial in the first place. Consider that, and the subsequent trial and its outcome really aren’t surprising. Of course, it’s been pointed out by many a pundit, armchair and otherwise, that if the colors were reversed for defendant and victim, the verdict would have likely been reversed, too.

True enough, and it should come as no surprise, despite the ridiculous dance the law profession put on for us in Sanford to claim otherwise: this IS about race. It’s also about the easy access to guns and gun laws such as Stand Your Ground.  As Scott Price, President of The Alliance for Progressive Values noted, “… if race in America with all its myriad codes, triggers and signals made up the tinder and kindling of this tragedy, it was Zimmerman’s easy access to a gun and the cheap bravado it provided that acted as the accelerant, turning a racially charged altercation into a murder. ”

But, even more broadly, the verdict was about fear.

Last night, fear won.  Fear tucked a revolver into its back pocket and walked out into the Florida eve, talking tough and looking for punks. Fear reclaimed the landscape of Sanford, and it was as if nothing had changed there at all. George Zimmerman, smiling, maybe even a little relaxed, certainly relieved, reclaimed his life. He can go on with his cop wannabe antics, and the good people of Sanford can comfortably close their eyes, because the protector of their domestic tranquility, a reckless white man with a gun, has been set free. Contra the expertise of our punditocracy, the problem from this acquittal isn’t going to be riots, but exactly what it allows: more George Zimmermans.

And if white fear must always be soothed with the balm of cold weapons and colder hearts, can we imagine, for one instance, the fear this decision produces in the black community?

A local actor in Richmond, DL Hopkins, put it this way:

“With the George Zimmerman, Marissa Alexander, and Lionel Tate verdicts, to me, a very clear message is being communicated. The State of Florida, if allowed, will stop at nothing to destroy my family.”

White fear prefers not to recognize this reality; in the honeysuckle suburbs it’s much easier to talk about the application of the law and the rule of order and how the prosecution’s case overshot the mark by not trying to get an involuntary manslaughter conviction. All true, maybe, but beside the point. The black community for centuries has understood that we are two nations. Our laws get applied unequally and unfairly. So the Zimmerman acquittal is not so much a surprise, but a confirmation of those differences, of the separateness of our two worlds.

And how does that confirmation, in turn, weigh on the black community?

In Florida, Nik Nicholson had this to say:

“I feel like crying, not because someone got off but because I expected it. Because it is 2013 and we are still niggers, watching our young get hung and we will go to sleep tonight… And our FB statuses are the end of our revolution. Myself included. Some of us will go to church tomorrow, and pray and maybe dance and continue living to die…Living to die, letting them kill us like 1865. Then turn the other cheek and pray for our enemies. I am ashamed. That I will be [at] work on Monday, when I should be in the street ready to fight to death, instead of on my knees waiting for someone to save me. God, I am so ashamed.”

That’s how.

If the verdict was predictable for a white man, the sense of impotence, rage and shame is equally understandable for the black community.

But the prediction of riots from those on the right are misguided. A vigil was held tonight at the John Marshall Courts building in Richmond. There were probably close to 400 people there, sitting on the steps with signs and candles. And the nicest thing about that moment was the deep diversity in the crowd: blacks, whites, Latinos, young, old, male, female and in between.

As one person yelled from the steps: “We are all one race! Black and white, we look pretty good together!”

And they did.

Vigil for Trayvon Martin, Delegate Delores McQuinn speaking

Speakers from the NAACP, local politicians like Delegate Delores Mcquinn and school board member Shonda Harris-Muhammed and activists like Lilli Estes and Ana Edwards took turns addressing the crowd.

There were chants of “No Justice, no peace,” but the vigil was imbued with a deeper sense of mourning, a sense of hurt and determination.

“Get mad, but after you get mad, do something, but don’t go to jail. That’s not the box we want to fill. We don’t need to fill that box anymore!”

Delegate Delores McQuinn urged folks to take practical action, “So, first of all, you go to the right box, the POLL box in November, and you vote!”

A spokesperson for the NAACP urged everyone to sign a petition to open a civil rights case against George Zimmerman.

And there were prayers. Lots of prayers.

“Oh heavenly father, open our hearts, open our eyes. We need you now more than ever.”

A rendition of “We Shall Overcome” ended a short march around the building. And the words “We’ll walk hand and hand.. someday…” hung in the air as a kind of grace note for the evening.

If there are problems in the days to come, they’ll be symptoms of the far deeper malaise that still divides us. But I suspect what we really need to fear now is how far we still have to go.

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2 responses

  1. Two worlds it is. But we live in one world, and that is the way that we need to operate. We can’t stop here. We need to get up close with everyone we meet, to make the racism stop.

  2. Remember the movie Grand Canyon, with Steve Martin? That touches on the two worlds. It’s worth a watch.

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