Many of my high school students think we live in a post-racist society. They are shielded by the San Francisco bubble that ignores what goes on in the Tenderloin or Hunter’s Point in order to justify that PollyAnna-ish world view. Would that it were true…
The Trayvon Martin murder, like so many others before him, shatters that bubble. But sadly, it probably won’t make a difference to most young San Franciscans’ perspective. They don’t see what happens in the a state 3000 miles away as having anything to do with them. Yet it is representative of the ignorance we propagate in our claims of a post-racist society.
I lived in South Florida in the early 1970s, and experienced severe racism for the first time. I was the unsuspecting victim of black hatred of whites, and I didn’t understand at the time what I had done to deserve it. It has taken me 30 plus years to comprehend the cumulative effect of institutionalized racism, which doesn’t justify the treatment I received, but helps explain it. My perpetrators had received a lot worse a lot more frequently, and they were just trying to settle the score. They wanted to take some power back, and it just happened to be from me.
When George Zimmerman gunned down an unarmed black teenager in a suburb of Orlando, he became a poster boy for what my assailants in the early ’70s wrongly saw in my countenance. Mr. Zimmerman—whatever his ethnic identity—had power, in the form of a semi-automatic handgun as well as his superior size and neighborhood-watch affiliation. Mr. Martin had Skittles and a can of iced tea.
The legal follow up or lack thereof is representative of the institutionalized racism that continues to breed in our culture. Mr. Zimmerman apparently did nothing wrong by gunning down an innocent teenager. Florida law protects those acting in supposed self-defense. Mr. Zimmerman felt threatened, and that seems to be enough for the Florida police chief to let him remain free to violate someone else’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of a sugary snack. I have not doubt that if the gun had been in the hand of a black man, he would have been face down on the pavement and his ass would currently be serving time in jail awaiting trial.
We should all be sickened by the injustice of what is happening in Florida. Instead, we sigh and congratulate ourselves that we are above that kind of behavior. Like so many others, Mr. Martin’s family will probably not see his murderer punished. There is no justice if the color of your skin causes fear in the hearts of other citizens.
I can only wonder what the situation might have been if we had stronger gun-control laws, and itchy-trigger-finger zealots like Mr. Zimmerman could be stripped of their right to bear arms.