I would not submit yet another commentary on the Zimmerman-Martin controversy were it not that midst a maelstrom of comments about the case, the root of prejudice remains unexamined.
On the heels of that case, we have people screaming at each other without having followed the details of the trial; NBC temporarily getting away with severe editing of a spoken transcript by simply deleting a word or two, thereby leading us to believe that Mr. Zimmerman was unquestionably prejudiced; and the President making an inflammatory statement to the effect of, “Thirty-five years ago, I could have been Trayvon Martin,” later adjusted to “Tayvon Martin could have been my son.”
These instances are just a few samples of a lynch mob mentality that rivals the infamy of the KKK. Add to that the Black Panther bounty of $10,000 for George Zimmerman, “dead or alive,” and you have a literal, modern lynch mob.
There is nothing exceptional about people screaming at each other without sufficient information about what they believe to be controversial. In fact, that has been and remains the rule rather than the exception for every issue, especially now that everyone has a global platform for grievances—real or imagined—in this Information Age.
The phony NBC transcript incited unwarranted hatred for Zimmerman. The amateur tactic of deleting a word or two from the transcript was eventually exposed, but not before its goal to profile Zimmerman had been accomplished.
The President’s statement doesn’t ring true. At the risk of seeming unsympathetic to Mr. Martin’s death, I think that President Obama would have handled that encounter in the dark quite differently than Mr. Martin did. He might have simply told his imagined Zimmerman, “I’m with my dad just down that block.” I’m sure President Obama knows that that’s what he would do even when he was seventeen years old. That is not to say that Mr. Martin was not “stalked” as a potential criminal, or even that he should not have taken offense at being followed. But tragedies often begin with trifles, including short fuses.
Ironically, prejudice is not rooted in racial differences, as is widely believed, but rather in the mistaken belief in the interchangeability, or sameness, of individuals of a race or ethnic group. Despite the overwhelming evidence that we are not all the same, communal ‘idealism’ prevails over individualism.
In this age of diversity, I’m stunned when I observe pigeonholing on the rise in most walks of life! There is no evidence that Mr. Zimmerman is prejudiced against black people. In fact, his race relationships prove that he is not at all prejudicial. Despite that, many continue to portray him as prejudiced even though he would have had to pay the price for that lie with at least ten years in prison had he been found guilty. Yet, having failed to get a verdict of guilty, essentially based on prejudice, they are already calling for a civil trial.
Reduced to essentials, the elevation of this tragic incident to the status of criminal intent to kill or even manslaughter was a terrible miscalculation. I believe the results of that miscalculation will be compounded by the civil trial, should there be one. Lowering the bar for a civil case conviction may make a difference legally, but morally the issue remains a matter of judgment between prejudicial malice or self-defense. This case simply does not fit the pattern of prejudicial behavior, at least on the part of Zimmerman. Accusing him of prejudice is, in itself, racial profiling—Hispanic, white, or otherwise.
All that speculation about color combinations, e.g., “If Martin and been white,” or “If Zimmerman had been black,” is inapplicable to this specific case. Rejecting that fact is a function of unconscious prejudice. Fortunately, the jurors knew that and realized that self-defense was Mr. Zimmerman’s only motivation for using his gun against an overpowering and enraged youth who might have severely injured of killed him.
Unfortunately, political figures are threatening to push for legislation to raise the bar for self-defense when dealing with violence. I understand that the prevention of violence can be codified up to a point, and those codes should be subject to constant scrutiny. But once in the heat of violence, instinct trumps codes. It should not be left to panels to focus on hypothetical scenarios rather than the unpredictable reality of life or death situations. Responsible elimination of lawful injustice (!) that targets young black men (or others) should be totally eliminated, but not at an increased risk of injury or death for white, black, or purple lawmen doing their dangerous jobs. The same is true for jurors.
Yet, the tragedy lives on in the ugly spectacle of jurors having to speak through distorted images and sound on television, and the Zimmerman family live in fear of their lives. The worst of it all, apart from Trayvon’s death, is that the profound shame and cruel oppression of slavery and its lingering injustice is rearing its ugly head at the expense of good-natured black or white individuals of reason, not race.
The root of prejudice is nourished by the muddied soil of an unhealthy sense of community or sameness. History is crammed with examples of its timeless grip: the slave class in ancient and modern societies; the untouchables; the wholesale slaughter of the noble class in the French and Russian revolutions; the Nazi holocaust; countless genocides in every corner of the world—to name a few. The examples vary on their surfaces, but their source is identical.
Put your ear to the topsoil of American society and you’ll hear the root of prejudice crunching its way beneath the surface. You may also hear it above the surface if you listen carefully. I hear it when thugs self-righteously beat someone—anyone—and add the words, “That’s for Trayvon!”