George is free, Trayvon is dead and we’re all still afraid
William Munny: “It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. You take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.”
The Kid: “Yeah ... well, I guess they had it comin’.”
William Munny: “We all have it comin’, Kid.”
My mind kept coming back to that powerful scene after the George Zimmerman trial ended in a decree of not guilty last week.
I have no opinion on the verdict; the justice system in the United States is far from perfect, but as an American — even a liberal one — I acknowledge that a trial by a jury of one’s peers is a far better method of determining guilt or innocence than that found in many other countries in the world.
Nor do I pretend to understand what happened on the night of Feb. 26, 2012. I was not there, and neither was anyone else who has such a visceral opinion as the ones I’ve read on message boards, Facebook and the like in the week since the trial ended. One side cries racism; the other trumpets self-defense; and somewhere beneath all of the political posturing and rancor, the truth lies buried.
The jury, apparently, believe Mr. Zimmerman’s version. And unfortunately, Mr. Martin’s will never be told, at least not from the teenager directly. All we’re left with are photographs, images and a narrative about a kid named Trayvon, and what I’ve seen in the more than a year since his death has been a fascinating — and appalling — study in contrasts.
Do I believe he was an innocent child who was murdered in cold blood? No. But I refuse to believe, and it sickens me to see him portrayed so, that because he had problems in school ... because he perhaps smoked marijuana ... because there are pictures on Facebook of him making vulgar gestures ... that he somehow had it coming.
That, to me, is the most distasteful part of this whole affair: The idea that a black teenager who did all of the things that so many teenagers do — smoke weed, act stupid, get in trouble — somehow had it coming. That poor George Zimmerman had no choice but to use his firearm to defend himself. That Trayvon Martin was a violent aggressor who was intent on bashing Mr. Zimmerman’s skull in.
The truth, I believe, lies somewhere in the middle, but it will probably never come to light. At this point, the story is so muddied, so twisted, so co-opted by various special interest groups that the truth, to them, is of little consequence in light of an agenda.
The question that I keep wondering about, though, is this: If Trayvon Martin were a white kid ... if he was wearing a polo shirt instead of a hoodie ... would George Zimmerman have given him a second glance?
I don’t know if George Zimmerman was ever asked this question. If so, I don’t know if he could answer truthfully without going back to that night and replaying the scenario in real time all over again. He may not know how he would have reacted to a white kid walking home to his father’s house.
But I can’t help but thinking that a white kid would not have aroused the sort of suspicion that Trayvon Martin did.
So many people say this case isn’t about race — or they try to say Trayvon made it about race in the cell phone conversation in which he was engaged by referring to Mr. Zimmerman as a “cracker” — but I don’t buy that for a second. I believe this tragedy — because that’s indeed what it is — is indicative of the fear still deeply ingrained in this country for cultures and lifestyles we don’t understand.
It’s all about fear — of something different from us, set deep into our subconscious by upbringing, social conditioning, the media, what have you. So many people want to pretend race relations in this country have reached a point to where we’re all color blind. If only such naivete were so.
An African American friend told me the other day, in light of this case, some advice his mother gave him when he got his driver’s license: If, she told him, he were ever to be pulled over by the police, he was to roll down the windows and stick out his hands, open wide, so they could see he was unarmed. Why? Because black men, she told him, make a lot of people nervous. They make some people afraid. And that, she told him, could get him shot.
I wish I could say I was surprised. I wish I could have laughed with him and told him how glad I am we’ve moved past that sort of fear. But then something like Trayvon Martin’s death occurs, and no matter how noble George Zimmerman’s intentions were as a neighborhood watch official, I can’t help but wonder: What made him so damn nervous and afraid?
This fear in all of us, I can’t stand it. We blame the media and the government for dividing us, and perhaps both institutions do ... but we do a fine job of dividing ourselves. We’d rather extend a closed fist than an open hand, a stony expression instead of an open heart, a retreat to the safety and comfort of the fortress that is our home rather than opening the door and inviting the world in.
Perhaps I’m the one who’s naive to hope such things could change. I believe they will, because at heart, most of us want the same thing: To be left alone to live our lives in peace and pursue whatever serenity we can find on this turbulent rock we call home. Unfortunately, fear sometimes wins out, and that breaks my heart more than anything else about this whole sad affair.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.