Above photo from Latino Times
The Zimmerman trial is only the latest installment in the ongoing American drama of violence, race, and justice, a story that is too often one-sided, inspiring rage, confusion, and disillusionment with a system that we say is broken but was never right in the first place.
This certainly isn’t the first time the public has had to grapple with a deeply unsatisfactory verdict in which many feel that justice hasn’t been served.
The acquittal of the four Los Angeles police officers charged in the now-famous brutal beating of Rodney King sparked the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, which killed 53 people and injured more than 2,000.
It also isn’t the first time that supposedly self-defensive actions could be just as easily read as racist vigilantism. Even before Stand Your Ground, Bernhard Goetz killed four young black men whom he claimed were attempting to mug him on the New York subway in 1984. Goetz served eight months of one-year prison sentence for criminal possession of a weapon.
On an equally fucked up note, Florida resident Marissa Alexander has been sentenced to 20 years in prison
for firing warning shots at her abusive husband Rico Gray after he threatened to kill her during an argument in 2010. Alexander had a protective order out against Gray, who had physically assaulted her and other women in the past.
Oh, and this incident took place nine days after Alexander gave birth to Gray’s child.
It would seem that this is exactly the kind of situation a law like Stand Your Ground is meant for. However, Alexander’s attempt to invoke Stand Your Ground failed when the judge found that she was not in sufficient danger at the time to qualify for immunity under SYG.
Marissa Alexander is a black woman.
Though Angela Corey, the Florida state attorney who oversaw the Zimmerman case and prosecuted Alexander, insists that there are “zero parallels” between the two cases, both cases illustrate, to use a phrased sadly clichéd at this point, that only some people are granted ground to stand on.
Photo via Gawker
Whether you lump Goetz and the LA police officers in the same category as Zimmerman (and the Floridian justice system in general), the pattern of controversy and fear and race and violence is clear.
At first the pattern is new. Then it’s old.
What makes something “newsworthy” is the fact that it’s out of the norm.
No one wants to read about the plane that landed safely at the airport. We want to hear about the crashes.
The media tends to focus on the exceptions rather than what we’ve come to accept as the rule. And the more accustomed we become to something, the less we hear about it. Nowhere is this clearer than in regards to the national “dialogue” on gun violence, of which the Zimmerman trial is again an installment.
The mass shootings committed in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown have brought gun control into the public spotlight. Horrifying as they are, those are the exceptions. Here is the rule: During the 2011-2012 school year, 319 Chicago public school students were shot, 24 of them fatally.
Photo via Slate
FYI, Illinois has some of the strongest gun control laws in the country, proving that
what may be a solution to the horrifying but still relatively rare mass shooting is not effective in the face of “everyday” violence.
Massachusetts has some strict gun laws as well. But, according to a list by Blackstonian, last updated July 11, 85 people have been shot in Boston since the Boston Marathon bombings. As of July 9, shootings in the city are up 17% from where they were at this time last year.
These shootings get some attention in the news, but it’s always the same: One, two, four faceless people shot in Dorchester/Roxbury/Jamaica Plain (fill in any “bad” neighborhood of your choice here, really) on a hot summer night. There is no slow-mo montage of faces, no real connection to the human bloodshed in cities across America.
We come up with any excuse to explain this violence away. The heat, the unemployment, family structure or lack thereof. Most often it’s linked to “inner city” problems like drugs and gangs.
The zeitgeist would have it that these shootings are all but expected, but how can that blasé explanation be acceptable?
Those deaths are just as big an outrage, especially considering the lack of attention given them.
Is some of that inattention race-based? Absolutely.
Photo via WCVB
Gun violence in “unexpected” places against “unexpected” people brings gun control into the national spotlight. Gun violence in the city, on the other hand, is basically par for the course.
It feeds into a notion central to much of the discussion surrounding the Zimmerman trial:
Our legal system values some lives more than others, especially when the “Others” are assumed to always pose a threat to “us.”
And when those threats take each other out, “we” have little to worry about. “We” are safe.
In the end, we can talk about George Zimmerman all we want, but one case is merely a distraction when put in perspective with the bigger, grosser picture of how we talk—or don’t talk—about race and violence in this country.