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Race, Legislation and a Legacy for future Generations.

I started following the case of Travyon Martin from across the ocean here in England from the earlier days. From the early days, I mean right from the time that it was reported that he was shot, but due to the “Stand Your Ground Laws” of Florida the person who shot him, George Zimmerman was not arrested and charged. I noted how Travyon’s body was not immediately identified. I’ve followed a number of the twists and turn up to the court hearing such as the fact that it took over 40 days for Zimmerman to eventually be arrested and charged, the issues of his bail, the lies he told and I could go on and on.  I followed the court hearing – the way people spoke about and analysed the friend that he happened to be speaking to on his phone on that fatal evening on which he was killed.  I’ve followed down to jury verdict what has left me with a deep sense of disquiet…..

Disquiet as a man, George Zimmerman killed someone – a young man, a boy, teenager or however you may choose to describe Trayvon. He killed him and as the verdict was read in court and he spoke to family and friends in court, he was smiling and even possibly laughing. Now maybe this was down to a deep sense of relief, but it didn’t seem right – he may have been found innocent of murder or even manslaughter, but without question he killed someone – he took away a valuable human life.  Zimmerman has the right to his emotions and the way in which he expresses them, but I must say I might have felt better if he looked sad and dare I say if he had even cried. Cried because he was relieved, but also because he was aware that he had taken another human beings life. Instead, I subsequently hear he says that he is sorry that Travyon’s parents lost their son whilst simultaneously suggesting that the black community owes him an apology.  Unremorseful as he appears, Zimmerman also now has the right to once more walk around with a gun.

This in of itself heightens the racial element of this case. There are actually white people that have expressed concerns about George Zimmerman, however, he’s focus is on the black people who have spoken up.  Beyond this, right from the very start, the profiling of Trayvon Martin by Zimmerman that led him to follow him was at least partially due to race.  It therefore automatically becomes a race related case. If Trayvon was not black, there is a strong possibility that Zimmerman wouldn’t have viewed him as suspicious and followed him.

There’s a further possibility that the early reaction of the police was due to a mindset or at least an unconscious bias and stereotyping of young black men.  Who knows about the jury – at the end of the day the jury selection was agreed by both the defence and prosecution.

Focusing in on Zimmerman though, as a member of the neighbourhood watch it could be said that Zimmerman was duty bound to report Trayvon to the police if he thought that there was something suspicious about him, his activities or his presence.  I strongly believe that once he had done so and was told not to follow Travyon he stepped beyond what could be deemed to be reasonable actions to what I would describe as vigilante activities.

It is in line with this that I believe that Zimmerman followed Trayvon contrary to police instructions and at this point, heightened by him actually getting out of his car that I believe that he loses any justification for self defence and becomes an agitator and if at all a victim a victim of his own actions.

The facts are blurry, but if Travyon ultimately for whatever reason, attacked a strange man that had been following him and then got out of a car and came up to him (I suspect in a not to friendly manner) – something that would be very disconcerting for anyone, can you actually blame him? I would actually refer to this as him standing his ground and defending himself.  What would you otherwise have him do?

On the other hand for Zimmerman to follow Trayvon, get out of his car with a gun in his pocket and go up to someone he believed to be suspicious and dare I add on the basis of his suspicions someone possibly dangerous; and ultimately shoot him as he claimed to have been attacked by the him… this is a completely different matter.

For such a person to be found not guilty says to me that there is either a problem with laws of Florida, a problem with the presentation of the case of the prosecution; the interpretation of the law or a combination.

There is an African saying that comes to mind. “When the owner of the house does not catch the thief in time, the thief will turn around and call the owner of the house a thief” (Paraphrased)

I must add that it’s not just the verdict, but the whole handling of the case that is of concern from when Trayvon’s body was left in a morgue, to the response to his father when he reported him missing; to the lack of arrest of Zimmerman …. It is the entirety of what took place that leads to questions about the value that has been placed on Trayvon’s life. When things became public and the demands for justice begun, the handling of things improved. In many ways, I did however, find myself thinking of New Orleans and Kanye West standing up to say that George Bush doesn’t care about black people. A very strong perception (reflective of what was on many people’s minds) that planted a deep-rooted seed, even if not a reflection of reality.

The problem now is not just that either based on reality or perception, justice has not been served, but the far reaching implications for future generations.

Parents of children of colour in America, now know (not believe) without an question that they must continue to tell their children – not to run when they see a cop; to always show their hands; not to make eye contact; to be mindful of what they wear as it is subject to interpretation …..

In other words parents have been reminded that they need to teach their children that they may (and are likely to) be judged on the basis of the colour of their skin and that they must therefore prepare for this and react even before people act. Young people of colour in America will continue to be taught to be suspicious of the people’s intentions and assume that any negative response to them is more than likely to be due to the colour of their skin.

The crux of the matter is that regardless of the fact that, yes Obama is a man of mixed heritage or more simply put an African American man in the White House; the Trayvon Martin/Zimmerman case serves to help entrench racial prejudices and concerns for generations to come. This is the biggest concern and the long lasting legacy of the case.


Susan Popoola runs Conning Towers Ltd, an HR organisation focused on Talent Management and HR Transformation and Engaged For Success a Social Enterprise. She is also the published author of Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective and Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain. She is also Winner Women4Africa Author of the Year 2013

Copyright 2013. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated

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