Tonawanda News

July 10, 2013

DUVALL: In Martin case, one black and white question

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The prosecution has rested in the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer — some would say the neighborhood watch vigilante — who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, last year.

It’s a case fraught with racial overtones, ones I can’t even begin to unwrap. 

After a tenuous case against Zimmerman from prosecutors and several setbacks in witness testimony, the specter of an acquittal and all the questions it brings — would someone get away with shooting an unarmed white teenager? — hangs over Florida like the suffocating summer humidity.

A line from a song by a white rapper, Macklemore, keeps running through my head as I try to sort out this case: “Don’t even want to tweet RIP Trayvon Martin/Don’t want to be that white dude Million Man Marching.”

Is this even my fight? It’s a question that should have an easy answer: Yes, equal justice is everyone’s fight. 

But it doesn’t feel so easy. “White privilege, white guilt/at the same damn time,” Macklemore concludes in evaluating why we ask ourselves why we even ask the question.

If I can’t unpack the racial element with any lucidity, the least I can do is evaluate the facts of the case.

George Zimmerman had called police frequently to report suspicious things in his neighborhood. He was a wanna-be cop who washed out of the police academy and patrolled his gated community with the gusto of a mall cop on a power trip.

The call about Trayvon Martin was the fifth such he’d made about suspicious black males in his neighborhood. 

Each time he mentioned to the police the individuals he suspected of criminal intent were black.

He ignored a dispatcher’s advice not to pursue Martin himself and let police come do the work. He told the dispatcher he was going after Martin because these guys always “get away.”

He scared the kid, who called Zimmerman a “creepy-ass cracker” to a friend on the phone. Defense attorneys argue it was Martin, not Zimmerman, who injected race into the confrontation. That seems at best disingenuous considering Martin wasn’t looking for a confrontation in the first place. He was a kid minding his own business walking down the street when Zimmerman accosted him.

After that, no one really knows what happened. We don’t know who threw the first punch. We don’t have any conclusive evidence who’d gotten the better of who in the ensuing fight.

In the sweaty fog of that rainy Florida night we only know one thing for certain: It was George Zimmerman’s decisions, not Trayvon Martin’s, that set into motion the events that led to a young man’s senseless death.

If the jury acquits Zimmerman it might be the right legal decision given the contours of Florida’s warped laws governing physical confrontation between people. That doesn’t mean it will pass the logic test. A plain reading of the facts gets you to only one conclusion: It’s George Zimmerman’s fault — whether it be through racial malice or stunningly poor judgment — Trayvon Martin is dead. Either way, he should bear the responsibility.

If there’s a question that cuts across all racial and ethnic groups, it’s this: Does it make any sense at all that it’s legal to kill someone because you picked a fight and lost?

If that’s OK in Florida — if that’s OK anywhere in America — we might have found our first truly black and white answer in this whole case.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.