Disorganized thoughts on the Zimmerman trial from a white person to whom you should not be listening.

Guest post by Heather McNamara

I wish I had been surprised last night when the verdict came through Not Guilty, but I wasn’t. The last time I was surprised was 13 months ago, when I learned that not only had George Zimmerman not been arrested immediately, but he’d managed to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from his supporters.

In the several days after Trayvon Martin was shot to death, several of my subordinates were late to work. At the office where I was working at the time, most of my subordinates were people of color. At my level, it was about half white, half PoC. All of my superiors were white. Most of my subordinates lived in Sanford. The protests were clogging up the streets and messing with the traffic and bus routes, and so they were having a hard time getting to work on time. The white people in the office were having a grand old time discussing their thoughts and opinions on the protests (everyone is too worked up!) and their various thoughts on possible terrible outcomes (what if this means no more stand your ground law?!). The people of color in the office said nothing. Their faces generally remained stony and quietly resentful as they worked hard for the pittance my superiors paid them. I stayed silent, embarrassed and afraid for my livelihood.

I lived in Simi Valley, California when the Rodney King verdict came through. Simi Valley is a primarily wasp/latin@ city about a fifty minute drive north of where the riots took place. In spite of the fact that the rioters were generally not chartering buses and driving up to our little town to mess things up, we had a curfew. Police enforced the in-at-dusk emergency rule. Our field trip was cancelled on account of several of the jurors had been from Simi Valley and the school decided that if we drove even a mile south with “SIMI VALLEY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT” printed all over the side of our bus, we’d be moving targets. Nothing happened to Simi Valley. Nonetheless, several months later, there was a KKK protest against… what? I don’t know what. The existence of people who aren’t them, I suppose. They left advertising fliers at my daycare. My mom was disgusted when she saw them. We weren’t there for much longer.

As a child who had experienced a curfew following the Rodney King verdict, and the rage of the California black communities at the O.J. Simpson trial, I took righteous indignation for granted. I assumed that any time some blatant example of racism occurred, I could count on people of color to get pissed off and take to the streets. Of course I also took the existence of racist people for granted, but in my juvenile interpretation of things, I thought the sides seemed evenly matched.

When I was 28 years old, I realized I was gay. It was then that my eyes were opened to complacency – not just my complacency, but the complacency of all marginalized groups. I was very suddenly aware of the ways that people delude themselves into thinking they’re not bigoted, that they just hold some justifiable opinion or another about this or that marginalized group. It was impossible for me to ignore the incredibly sad fact that sometimes marginalized people believe those opinions, and that sometimes they’ll be so desperate for approval that they’ll assist in justifying them. It took more introspection and bravery than I’d ever before mustered to overcome my tendency to do the exact same thing. I’d been proud of blending in with straight people. I’d been uncomfortable in women’s locker rooms or bathrooms because I thought if they knew about me, they’d rightfully want me out of there. I’d been afraid to tell anyone that their intolerance of me was not the same as my intolerance of their intolerance.

A lot of my black facebook/twitter friends are saying things about how they hate white people, or white people suck, or they need to shut the fuck up. Part of me is uncomfortable when I see this. I think no, please, the hateful cannot hate on my behalf any more than I can refuse to hate on their behalf. I want to tell them how much I wish I had the power to fix this. But I know it isn’t about me. So, I tell my white facebook/twitter friends who are saying stupid bullshit about how the witnesses were inarticulate or about how they’d be afraid if they saw Trayvon in their neighborhood to shut the fuck up. I delete them. And once I dropped my knee-jerk defensiveness in response to my black friends’ rage, I realized that I took comfort in it. I was empowered by their lack of complacency. Somehow, the world seems to make more sense.

The prosecution claimed that this crime wasn’t about race. It was. But even if it wasn’t, even if we could prove conclusively somehow that George Zimmerman really was only afraid of hoodies or there’d been a rash of Skittles-wielding burglars in his town, the outcome of this trial was about race. The defense team was funded by thousands upon thousands of people who could easily imagine themselves in the same position – so afraid of a black teenager that they would do the unthinkable and end his life. It was funded by people who imagine their fear as so justifiable, so logical, so worthy of respect that literally any heinous response to this worry is okay. It was funded by gun nuts who don’t give a shit how scared anyone else is when they wear their guns in plain sight at the grocery store, but truly believe that anyone who scares them deserves to die. George Zimmerman is free because he had their money.

Some people who read this are going to consider their racism more seriously than they had before. They’re going to do so because they’ll see my picture and notice that my skin is fairly pale and that I therefore have nothing to gain by speaking out against racism. They’ll think that I am therefore unbiased. They will dismiss similar words from people of color because they’ll see bias the same way the anti-gay bigots saw bias when Prop 8 was declared unconstitutional by a gay judge. I don’t know what it’s like to experience racism, but I know a little bit about bigots. I know they’re not creative. I know they have self-centered morality. I know they think they’re good people. I know they have warped definitions of what it means to be a good person. And I know that when they do the unthinkable, they will have the support of thousands upon thousands of bigots who will spend any amount of money to prove to themselves that they’re not bigots. I know that they will look at the money they spent and imagine it’s proof that they’re really the victims. And I hate them.

Heather McNamara writes about indie literature, politics, and civil rights at HeatherMcNamara.net.

Disorganized thoughts on the Zimmerman trial from a white person to whom you should not be listening.

24 thoughts on “Disorganized thoughts on the Zimmerman trial from a white person to whom you should not be listening.

  1. 1

    Very well written. I was busy yesterday and didn’t see the info until later at night, along with posts from both sides about what happened. Fortunately for me with this year being a very politically charged one it was easy for me to ignore them. It does bug me though how little some people either side are willing to bend. It is very black and white for a lot of people. Until they bend enough to see that just maybe there is some validity to the other side I don’t have much hope that at least as far as the public goes, things will get much better.

  2. 2

    I got my views from my black, depression born mom. We were a military family, and her response to anyone gay was “Shit, they aren’t hurting anyone, leave them alone,” and “Everyone knows there were gays in the military, and everyone knows who there are..no body cared” While I can’t remember my dad saying anything pro-gay, I cannot remember his saying anything homophobic, so mom’s was the default position (she was also an atheist). I was a teen before I actually met a homophobe, probably because it was a subject not mentioned in 60s ‘polite society’.

    As for GZ, it astounds me that someone can start a fight with an unarmed teen, murder him, and walk free. Sadly, it doesn’t surprise me. The “Stand Your Ground” laws need to be repealed.

    1. 2.1

      Excuse me, what was the evidence that Zimmerman started the fight? The physical evidence suggests that Martin started the fight and Zimmerman was getting the worst of it. Zimmerman has head injuries, e.g. cuts on the back of his head and possibly a broken nose. The only injury that Martin had was the gunshot wound. If Zimmerman threw the first punch, it was remarkably ineffective.

      I know it is a waste of time to to attempt to educate folks like gwen who ignore evidence in favor of emotion but here’s an analysis of the trial by George Washington Un. law professor Jonathan Turley. I have believed from the get go that the prosecutors overcharged the case, both in response to political pressure and in an attempt to force a plea bargain to a lesser offense, namely manslaughter; the latter is standard prosecutorial procedure. I would note that the police officer who was in charge of the crime scene, after talking to the ambulance technicians and Zimmerman wanted to arrest him and charge him with manslaughter. The DA rejected his advice, which directly led to the brouhaha that followed.

      Just for the information of those who have joined the George Zimmerman lynch mob, a little discussion of jurisprudence is required. In the American system of justice, a defendant is presumed innocent until judged guilty by a jury or a judge, in the case of a bench trial. Further, the prosecution must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution’s case was full of holes that the defense drove a truck through. They didn’t come close to proving 2nd degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Turley doesn’t think they even proved a manslaughter case beyond a reasonable doubt. By the way, the stand your ground law is totally irrelevant in this case as Zimmerman declined to invoke it in his defense.

      Having said this, it is possible that the Martin family might have a fair chance in a wrongful death suit against Zimmerman, where the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence, a much lower bar then beyond a reasonable doubt. I’m not an attorney but were I asked by the Martin family for advice, I would advise them to at least consult with a plaintiff’s attorney. Of course, the problem is, even if they won, does Zimmerman have any money that they could collect?


      1. Zimmerman started the fight by following Martin. He ran up to him & without preamble barked “What are you doing here?” Well, what do YOU do when a strange man is stalking you and yells ‘what are you doing here?’ Martin had every right to defend himself from a stalker.

        1. Well, if Zimmerman started the fight by throwing the first punch, it was remarkably ineffective as Martin had no injuries other then the gun shot wound. Zimmerman has cuts on the back of his head and possibly a broken nose (that is under dispute; the ambulance technicians suggested that he go to the hospital to have his nose examined, he declined).

          As far as civil penalties go-I don’t think Nicole Brown’s family ever got a dime from OJ Simpson, but as far as I can tell they think winning in civil court was worth it anyway.

          That’s all very well but attorneys like to be paid. In a case like this, they usually take 1/3 of any award in fees. OJ Simpson, who was a multimillionaire before June 12, 1994, apparently spent all his bread on attorney’s fees. When his house on Rockingham Rd. was taken away, he had very little equity in it.

          Now of course, if Zimmerman chooses to write a book about his experiences, presumable ghost written, and it is a best seller, then there may be some bread available.

        2. He ran up to him & without preamble barked “What are you doing here?

          Wait a minute where did this come from. Zimmerman’s claim is that he had started back to his vehicle and was confronted by Martin. Of course, he may be lying but the prosecution was unable to prove differently.

        3. I’m quite confident that in no American jurisdiction may a person punch someone for merely running up and yelling “what are you doing here?” This would be a very strange rule, and I’m not sure what it would be based on.

      2. What evidence is there that Treyvon Martin started the fight beyond “Zimmerman said so”? Noone knows who threw the first punch, but we do know that Zimmerman continued following Martin, when he was told not to, he got out of his car to follow, when he was told not to, he was carrying a gun, even though the neighborhood watch guidelines said he wasn’t supposed to be armed while carrying out his neighborhood watch duties. Zimmerman’s injuries weren’t serious enough to get him taken to a hospital. Regardless of who threw the first punch, the fight would have been avoided had Zimmerman followed the neighborhood watch guidelines and the advice of the 911 operator and stayed in his car. As far as civil penalties go-I don’t think Nicole Brown’s family ever got a dime from OJ Simpson, but as far as I can tell they think winning in civil court was worth it anyway.

        1. Regardless of who threw the first punch, the fight would have been avoided had Zimmerman followed the neighborhood watch guidelines and the advice of the 911 operator and stayed in his car.

          Absolutely true and irrelevant. If Zimmerman hadn’t been armed, he would, in all probability not done any of these things; the gun gave him false courage.

          1. In other words, if Zimmerman had acted like the rules applied to him and left his gun at home, it never would have happened. It was he, not Trayvon Martin, who set the chain of events in motion. The law may say that doesn’t matter, and if he feared for his life in a fight that he provoked he was justified in shooting. But if that’s the case, the law is an ass.

      3. This nonsense in which you are engaging right now? That’s called controlling the narrative. In your position of privilege, you have assumed that the direction of the conversation naturally should point where you feel it ought. You feel the need to come here and cast everyone who might have a different focus than yours in the light of “emotional” and therefore wrong, or illogical, or at least less than you. It does not occur to you that a person can be emotional and logical, emotional AND rational, emotional and more correct than you are. You simply assume your superiority.

        Which is why, of course, you’ve decided that whether Zimmerman is guilty and whether Right TM has been done and Justice TM has been served is a matter of whether the minutiae of the case was handled correctly. You’ve determined, using the authority with which you’ve assigned yourself, that Justice TM in fact has been served and Zimmerman has gotten what he deserved because defense’s burden was this and prosecution’s burden was that and the letter of the law was the other.

        You have failed to analyze the fairness of the laws, the fairness of the burden of proof, the objectivity of the evidence allowed into the courtroom, the objectivity of the jury, the other possible outcomes, the fact that Zimmerman’s lawyers were funded by thousands of racists all over the United States and therefore Zimmerman was given a bit more *fair* a trial than Martin ever could have received, the fact that the media has cast Zimmerman as a victim in a situation where black people before him have simply been cast as mindless villains. You’re so certain this is about the minutiae of the case and the reason you’re certain of that is because the game is rigged in your favor. You know that if it ever came down to it, the minutiae of a similar case would tilt similarly in your favor. You have this confidence because the system was built by and for you. Because it is built in your image, you’re certain it’s perfect, and you’re fairly sure you don’t ever have to consider a reality in which the system was built by or for anyone else. That’s why you can walk home from a convenience store and not get killed. You’re ignorant. Enjoy it.

  3. 3

    The stand your ground laws in themselves would be less problematic if they purely applied to someone being attacked in their own home or while being near, in or operating a vehicle.

    The biggest problem is that stand your ground tends to be only accepted if the claimant has a higher social status than the person whom they considered a threat. This is why a white man can claim he was standing his ground when it came to a black teen but a woman cannot claim she was standing her ground when it comes to her abusive husband when they both belong to the same ethnic group.

    Racism and sexism are no longer as harshly codified as they used to be but these hierarchies are still firmly in place in the minds of judges and juries.

    Travyon Martin was walking down a street where he had every right to be. Even if he physically hurt Zimmerman one could argue he had every right to fight off someone who clearly meant him harm. Except that he was Black and walking while black is now apparently suspect behaviour in wealthy predominately white neighbourhood. If the justice system was not racist, Zimmerman could have been convicted for murdering an innocent young man who was merely standing his ground.

    1. 3.1

      Not that it changes anything, but Sanford is by no means a wealthy neighborhood. I live about a 15 minute drive from Sanford and used to go there weekly to visit my midwife when I was pregnant. There is no nice part of Sanford.

      1. I’m sorry, by “nice” I meant rich. I was using the sort of vernacular my mom and I would use to describe a part of town that was rich or not rich. Internalized classism, I suppose LOL. (I live in an okay neighborhood which we would not describe as nice).

    2. 3.2

      The Stand Your Ground laws are awful, but they were not invoked in the trial. Zimmerman was found to be acting in self defense under Florida’s normal self defense laws, which are much more favorable to people claiming self-defense than the laws in almost all other states anyway. For example, in Florida the prosecution is required to prove the defendant was not acting in self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas in most states the defense needs to show that the defendant was acting in self-defense.

      1. Also, while the defense did not invoke Stand Your Ground, it was explicitly included in the instructions to the jury.

        Also, the burden of proof being on the prosecution? That was a part of the Stand Your Ground legislation package.

  4. Pen

    Actually, as an expression of the reasons for white anger at racism, that post is pretty good. Which is great, because as you say, black people can do their own anger without white people’s help. Meanwhile the need of a particular group of white people to distance themselves from the bigoted group and express and campaign for the society they want on their own behalf is lagging a bit.

    The hateful can’t hate on your behalf but it seems to me their victims can’t be angry on your behalf either. For one thing, they may not be angry for the same reasons. I’m struck by the fact that you say people will think you have nothing to gain by speaking out against racism but your post shows several ways in which you do suffer through racism – in uncomfortable and distanced relationships with black people and by finding yourself all too easily associated with the racist group by reason of skin colour. I get the feeling you also feel angry and humiliated at being forced to live in a privileged position in such a manifestly unjust and unhealthy society and be or feel powerlessness to get any change. I know I do.

    And then there’s what to do about the explicit bigots, especially the ones who take the agreement and support of all white people in their environment for granted. You say you delete them – from Facebook or Twitter. How many white people have ‘deleted’ people closer than a random Facebook friend over racism? Or walked away from jobs? In order to keep our own environments pure and free of racism, I suppose. I know I have, though I’m not sure it’s the most progressive action I could take. The problem is that silence and separation aren’t going to stop more Trayvons being murdered as they walk down the street, or, more to the point, keep other Zimmermans unarmed, out of neighborhood watch groups, and in no doubt at all as to the general unacceptability of their worldview.

  5. 5

    When a white person kills it needs to be viewed unemotionally and in an isolated vacuum without context to be unbiased.
    When a black person kills it needs to be considered in the light of the entire history of violence, self perpetuating isolation, dependency of others and history of acting out against outside communities.
    Or, in a phrase, Confirmation Bias.

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