The question raised by my colleague Jason Easley in his earlier post about whether or not there will be justice for Trayvon Martin is without question one of the burning questions raised by this tragedy. But it is not the only burning question.
The other issue one has to wonder about – and I don’t pretend to be the first and only one wondering this – is why it took all of this just to get George Zimmerman arrested on the evening of April 11, 2012. More than a month after he murdered Trayvon Martin in cold blood. More than a month after the Sanford, Florida police inexplicably and outrageously informed Trayvon’s parents that there would be no arrest in this case.
But, as Rev. Al Sharpton pointed out at the Wednesday evening press conference with Trayvon’s family and lawyers, the family simply couldn’t stomach allowing the man who murdered their son to just walk around free as if all he had done was shoot a squirrel with a slingshot. At the very least the man needed to be arrested, and from the beginning that’s all the parents asked for. They didn’t ask for vigilante justice, and they didn’t swear revenge. All they asked for was the most elemental recognition from the justice system in Florida that something was wrong with this picture. And since it was evident they weren’t going to get much in the way of justice from the Sanford Police Department, they broadened their reach and, with the assistance of their lawyers and others, began a campaign that steamrolled into what is becoming one of the largest, most potent news stories of the year. There have been marches, numerous displays of ‘hoodie’ solidarity, speeches, and countless hours spent debating the issue on news programs across the country. Rev. Sharpton practically dedicated his entire MSNBC show five nights a week to nothing else but the Trayvon case ever since the incident occurred on Feb. 26, 2012.
So on one level, it’s good to see that so many of all races were moved so strongly at such a gut level by this case. Moved not just to shake their heads in disbelief but moved to act and make demands. Focused, disciplined, unrelenting activism brought about a positive result, and that’s a good thing even if it is only the first step.
But what happens when the next similar miscarriage of justice occurs? Or to the one that’s occurring right now that none of us have heard of and aren’t likely to? Because I think we can all agree that Rev. Al Sharpton and National Action Network can’t be everywhere at once. And exactly how many marches are we prepared to engage in and for how many cases? How do we decide who merits the media blitzes and who doesn’t? Because I think it’s safe to say that what happened to Trayvon is not a rarity. Heck, members of the African American community in Sanford have said openly that what happened to Trayvon is merely symptomatic of what has been happening to black folks there for quite some time so this is nothing new to them. Only the notoriety is new. And that’s just in Sanford.
And if this is to be considered a teachable moment, are we to believe that, thanks to Trayvon’s tragic death, the justice system will now be administered more fairly for African Americans for now and evermore throughout the land? Or even in Florida? Or is the justice system doing what it’s supposed to do in this particular instance only because it was forced to by more than a month of unrelenting pressure brought on by a fed-up community? A thorough reading of Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” offers some rather troubling, and meticulously documented, answers to these questions.
The election of President Barack Obama in 2008 signaled a significant change in race relations in America, and I don’t think that can be disputed. Even the most optimistic among us never thought we would see that day in our lifetimes given this country’s brutal and bloody racial history. But it was this very same President Barack Obama who practically had to run for cover just for saying that if he had a son that son would look like Trayvon Martin.
In America. In 2012.
Keith Owens (AKA Black Liberal Boomer) is a Detroit-based writer who has worked for The Detroit Free Press, Detroit’s alternative newsweekly the Metro Times, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, and other newspapers. He was also a nationally syndicated columnist with Universal Press Syndicate for three years beginning in 1993.