By Mariah Beverly
Seattle Medium Intern
Last weekend, George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in a case that has been headlining the news all over the country. There have been many public and formal debates on a list of aspects associated with the case. Some believe it was a hate crime, some believe the judicial system is corrupted and that the “Stand Your Ground” law needs to be reformed, and others believe it was simply another example of how African Americans continue to fight a losing battle for equality in America.
Zimmerman claimed to have spotted Martin walking down the street in Sanford, FL in a suspicious manner, and called the police. The policed instructed Zimmerman not to pursue Martin and to stay in his vehicle, and Zimmerman disregarded these instructions. He then followed and approached Martin, who was unarmed, and shot him, after an altercation between the two. Zimmerman’s defense was that he was protected under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which states that if you feel as though your life is in danger you can use deadly force to defend yourself. As a result, the “stand your ground” law is at the center of the controversy surrounding this case.
In rallies all over the country, people carried signs and walked the streets of their communities to support their disdain with the law and its impact on the verdict of the Zimmerman case.
Aunjoli Jean-Pierre, a 22-year-old African American, thinks that if Zimmerman hadn’t approached Martin at all the confrontation that led to the death of Trayvon Martin would not have taken place.
“Stand your ground shouldn’t even be in question, everyone says Zimmerman was defending himself, but he approached Martin, even when he was told not to,” said Pierre. “Who’s to say Martin didn’t act in self defense? No one.”
Another aspect of conversation is the issue of race. Zimmerman is said to have a Latino background, enough to make him a minority. Though this may be true, many African Americans believe that Zimmerman, despite having a mother who is Latino, cherishes a lifestyle of entitlement bestowed upon him by his father, also known as “White privilege.”
Anna Sneed, an 18-year-old African American, believes that any situation where an African American is the victim of a crime committed by a Caucasian person, the African American will be envisioned in a negative spotlight by the society, the media, and sometimes even the African American community. Sneed, like many of her peers, believes that although Martin had a clean record, was a good student, and was unarmed the night of his death, he was still seen as another black kid whose life has little or no value. According to Sneed, that fact in itself allowed Martin to be portrayed as the villain and Zimmerman as a good Samaritan turned victim.
“It’s all about privilege,” says Sneed. “They’re going to bring up every bit of dirt they can on Trayvon, even if there isn’t any, to justify this White man taking a Black child’s life.”
“Zimmerman is living the privileged life, he doesn’t have to worry about anyone bringing up his dirt, they wouldn’t, and they won’t,” she added.
There are many, including some African American youth, who believe that the trial was not based on race, but also believe that the final verdict was not fair.
“No one can say what happened that night besides Zimmerman, and being fair, he could support everything he said. It had nothing to do with race; he was protected by the law,” said 19-year-old Bakari Hayes.
Although Hayes does not agree with the verdict, he believes taking the life of an innocent child is not acceptable in any situation.
“As a young African American man in America, it hurts to see that my life doesn’t have much more worth (than that) in a court room, or even walking down the street in a hoodie,” says Hayes, regarding how unsafe he feels walking around his community. “I knew the system was messed up, this only confirmed it for me.”
Hayes is one of the many young African American males who were affected emotionally and mentally by this trial. Tre’zhan Blair, 18, says “ There had to have been something that he could’ve done before he shot (Trayvon) Martin, the fact that he pulled out a gun on a child is enough, to me, for it to be a hate crime.”
When asked how this case would affect his future, Blair states; “As a Black boy, I’m already scared for my life when I walk down the street, but what scares me even more is I’m used to it, and this case shows me that nothing can be done about it.”
The outcome of the trial also has Blair fearful of residing in the State of Florida. Blair was considering attending school in Miami – where he had a full scholarship, but now is reconsidering his decision.