Trayvon Martin, an African American teenager, was another casualty in America’s racial divide.  A court jury acquitted his murderer George Zimmerman.  There were no African Americans on the jury.  According to a news article, his town of Sanford, Florida had a history of racial problems.  The African Americans there reacted somberly, peacefully and silently to Zimmerman’s acquittal.  According to the article, one African American minister hoped the town doesn’t “dwell on the verdict.”  She even said, “It’s a little disheartening, but that was the process we go through as far as having a jury, and that’s the verdict that they had, and we have to respect that.  We don’t necessarily have to like it, but we have to respect it.”  But doesn’t respecting the verdict mean respecting the racial divide?  Can the verdict truly be respected while obviously evading the role of race—an underlying motive of the murder?
One of the jurors unwittingly revealed to the media how the racial divide prejudiced the verdict.  The juror felt she knew “George,” but she knew little about “Trayvon.”  The juror admitted discrediting Trayvon’s friend Rachel Jeantel’s testimony because she didn’t understand Jeantel’s—and thus Trayvon’s—world.  She constantly referred to “them” and “their community.”
As a juror making a verdict, she had a responsibility to bridge any gaps or divides in order to thoroughly understand the case.   There were no African Americans on the jury who might have explained or defended Trayvon’s “community.”  The juror did not do it herself.  If she had, she might have realized that was Trayvon just a child defending himself against what he saw as a creepy, dangerous stranger.
In contrast, the juror simply identified with Zimmerman.  He was the hero in her fiction.  She defended him. She sympathized with him.  She referred to him as “George,” as if she knew him personally.  She even said, “He wanted to do good.  He had good in his heart, but went overboard.” In other words, his job was to monitor the Black presence and that he did.
So why was Zimmerman so overzealous?  Many Zimmerman defenders tried to deflect from the black-white conflict by reminding us that Zimmerman was half-Hispanic.  So was he zealously demonstrating—at least to himself—his allegiance to the white side of the racial divide?
Thus, just one African American juror might have related to Trayvon’s world.  She might have recognized and defended Trayvon’s humanity and Zimmerman might not have been acquitted.
The juror claimed race played no role in the trial.  She claimed other people were looking for ways to make the Trayvon Martin case into a racial issue.  That claim showed her imagination or fiction weaving.  Her story has become a part of American fiction weaving.  As Frederick Douglass wrote in an 1870 essay titled “Seeming and Real” after the abolition of slavery:
“A fervid imagination sometimes entirely upsets and supplants the plain and obvious teachings of common sense.  In the glare of enthusiasm, fiction is often mistaken for fact, and what exists, somehow or other, is confounded with what ought to be.  A state of mind analogous to this, leads some of our friends to assume that all distinctions founded upon race or color have been forever abolished in the United States, and that all special efforts recognizing a different state of facts, are uncalled for, out of time, and hurtful.  “There are no colored people in this country” said a highly poetic friend of ours, not long since. [ . . . ] This delirium of enthusiasm is very pleasant to those possessed by it, and it would seem unamiable to disturb it if it did not sometimes stand directly in the way of needed effort.”
The juror blurred the line between fiction and fact.  She had to delude herself, believe her fiction, that race was not at the core of the case.  The delusion clouded her thinking.  She did not have to ask herself what she would have done if she were in Trayvon’s shoes—if she were alone and a strange man had confronted her in the middle of the night?  Would she have wanted to fight back if she could have? Her argument that Trayvon could have walked away was irrational since he had already tried to get away from the stranger.  How was Trayvon to know that the crazy stalker was not out to kill or rape him?  As a mother, would she not have wanted her own child to fight back?
Her fiction became her fact.  In her delirium, the juror even supported Zimmerman’s having a gun in his hand again.  She had no problem with his being a watchman in her community.  She claimed to have as much compassion for the inconvenienced Zimmerman as for the murdered teenager. Trayvon had committed no crime, but she even blamed him for standing his ground and fighting back.
The San Francisco Bay Area has created its own fiction on the racial divide.  Some claim that racial conflicts wouldn’t happen here because people here are more enlightened than those in the South.  They imagine a “diverse” community that too sophisticated for Southern racism.  They delude themselves into believing that “progressive” attitudes have “allowed” better race relations in the Bay Area.  In fact, the Bay Area promotes sugar-coated words like “diversity” and “gentrification,” so that the racial divide—and inequality—becomes more elusive.
These fictions must also be protested.  African Americans in the Bay Area have fought against the racial divide here. Some protests have been peaceful; some were not.  For example, the Black Panthers were a militant reaction to police brutality in the African American community.  Black gay men protested and confronted the racial discrimination in San Francisco’s gay community.  The fights have been successful, however, this doesn’t mean the racial divide/inequality no longer exists.  It has just become more elusive.  One way to evade discussion of the racial divide is to dismiss it as “race-baiting.” (When Barak Obama said he could have been Trayvon Martin 35 years ago, he was accused of “race-baiting.” However, his admission helped release a lot of pent up anger.)
So 3000 miles away from Sanford, Florida, protests in the Bay Area have not always been “peaceful” and “somber.” Protesters have closed down freeways, trashed stores, etc.  It was as if it happened here and not in Florida.  Some whites have criticized the audacity of protesting here. They accuse the protesters of looking for an excuse to be “play the race card.”  However, protesters see the racial divide here.  The Trayvon Martin verdict reminded them that they could not afford to “move on” or “get over it.”  If they did, they could be the next casualty.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. For guidelines, see: http://oaklandlocal.com/tos

 

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