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Mary Mitchell: Zimmerman trial forced us all to confront our biases

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Updated: August 15, 2013 6:49AM



There’s no predicting what a jury will do.

Despite the not guilty verdict handed down by the jury Saturday night in the George Zimmerman trial, Trayvon Martin’s parents have gotten justice for their son.

Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin have forced the entire nation to consider the harm racial profiling can cause.

Young black males die daily in urban areas across the country, and many of the people who are responsible for the deaths never set foot in a courtroom, let alone stand trial.

These young black males are killed while standing on corners and riding buses. They are gunned down while sitting on porches and walking home from the corner store.

Frankly, if Trayvon had been killed during a confrontation with another black person who lived in the same gated community where Zimmerman lived, I doubt that so many people outside the boy’s family would have reacted as strongly as they did to Trayvon’s death.

But black people are weary of fighting the battle for equality on so many fronts.

It is bad enough that so many unarmed black males have been killed by law enforcement in recent years, but the idea that a self-styled watchman has the right to confront a 17-year-old simply because he didn’t like the boy’s looks was too much.

When the dead teen’s parents started a petition on Change.org demanding that Zimmerman be arrested, more than a million people signed.

So while prosecutors insisted in closing arguments that this case wasn’t about race, it was very much about race.

Zimmerman is a white Hispanic, and Trayvon was black. And this is an age in which, in some places, black males are feared and loathed.

Trayvon represented every young black man who has ever been hassled because someone thought he was up to no good.

Trayvon is the professional black man on the corner waving for a cab that refuses to stop, and the sagging brother that is followed around department stores.

Trayvon is the young black man whose late-model car is pulled over in predominantly white neighborhoods for a disputed traffic violation, and the older black man who gets a traffic ticket for a broken taillight.

If Trayvon had been a white youth or a Hispanic teen wandering through Zimmerman’s neighborhood that rainy night, more than likely he wouldn’t have been profiled as a criminal.

Why Trayvon?

Zimmerman didn’t know anything about Trayvon. He didn’t know that the teen had been suspended from school, or that his mother was so fed up she sent him to stay with his father for a while.

He didn’t know if Trayvon smoked reefer or Newports.

He didn’t know whether Trayvon was armed or not.

All Zimmerman knew was that Trayvon was black. As prosecutors pointed out, Zimmerman could have assumed whatever he wanted about Trayvon, but he didn’t have a right to act on those assumptions.

No one except Zimmerman knows what really happened that fateful night.

But what is not in dispute is that Zimmerman ignored a police dispatcher’s instructions to stay in his vehicle and not to approach the young man.

Lawyers on both sides of this case spent a lot of time during the trial dealing with Zimmerman’s self-defense claim.

As it turned out, the state failed to convince the jury that when Zimmerman shot Trayvon it was with evil intent and not in self-defense.

But that defense seems almost beside the point. Trayvon had a right to be in Zimmerman’s community. He did not owe the man an explanation about why he was there.

The acquittal in this case suggests otherwise.

As soon as the jury went into deliberations, Fulton and Martin made a public appeal for calm regardless of the outcome.

I hope the young people who used social media to bring attention to Trayvon Martin’s murder are listening. Any outbreak of violence would be disrespectful to the Martin family and tarnish the incredible example this family has set.

Finally, because of the acquittal, there will be those who will believe Zimmerman did nothing wrong, and that is unfortunate.

But this case wasn’t only about Zimmerman.

It was about a 17-year-old who forced many of us to confront our biases.

It was also about the willingness of Trayvon’s parents to challenge the notion that black males do not belong.



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