“The maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” That is how Webster defines the word justice for us in his dictionary, but what does it really mean? It is the basic idea that our legal system is based on, but seemingly few understand it. The recent acquittal of George Zimmerman in the high-profile murder trial and the massive outpouring of social response opened my eyes to this idea even more. Many seemed stunned by the not guilty verdict and looked to any social media outlet they could to express their displeasure. I too was disheartened by the trial, but perhaps not for the same reasons as many of those I saw on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Ask.fm, Mobli, etc.
The trial was to be a difficult one from the start. The fact is, there was no key witness to the incident. No one to put a face to words. No one to put a timeline to actions. No one to tie up the loose ends. So it was up to the state prosecution team to use the circumstantial evidence they had to piece together a case. In the opinion of many (to include my own) they fell short of the type of job they should have done, but let me be clear in saying that our judicial system places a standard on them that is difficult at best. The idea of “beyond a reasonable doubt” causes havoc when it is tied into what justice is. Justice demands that we maintain or administer what is reasonable by impartially finding truth in conflicting stories or passing out due judgments. In retrospect, the jury had to be convinced by the state that murder or manslaughter was a reasonable conclusion beyond the doubt of any reasonable human being. I bet many thought it wasn’t that difficult of a decision, but when you look at it that way, one can understand the challenge the prosecution had to prove that in this and many other situations.
People will not like this blog, I get that, especially when I say that this jury’s decision and the crux of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman situation was not racially based. The system places strict guidelines on what must be proven and anyone that was paying any attention to the case at all knew that it was at least questionable if that was satisfied. Yet, any reacted with shock and awe, choosing to categorize this as a racially charged offense. Self-proclaimed leader Al Sharpton announced a 100-city “Justice for Trayvon” day and a “social movement for justice.” Jesse Jackson categorized Florida as an “apartheid state” and blamed the jurors own “cultural biases” for their decision. He used this case to argue for the freedom of Marissa Alexander, who was jailed when she fell on the other side of the “stand your ground” law in Florida than Zimmerman did for firing a warning shot near an abusive husband. The idea of using this to declare and apartheid in Florida is ridiculous at best. Apartheid was a set of components of segregation that involved the systematic discrimination of people of color in terms of economics, law, and politics. This was not…
Trayvon Martin’s death was a travesty, there is no doubt. I even took a picture of myself in a hoodie when it happened. I am not Trayvon, but I very well could have been. My appearance has more than one time been misinterpreted to be something it was not. As recently as two weeks ago, I was branded a “thug” simply because of my hat being turned to the side and having not shaved in a week. In all of our hearts, we know that Zimmerman was guilty of something, whether it could be proven or not. A not guilty verdict, contrary to popular belief, does not proclaim innocence, but rather not “proven” to be guilty of a certain crime. Florida’s law regarding standing your ground leaves far too much leeway. For once here in Michigan, we got the law right (to a degree) with guns making it necessary that we retreat unless it is unsafe to do so when outside the home. The Michigan law provides legal protection to people who use deadly force when then they “honestly and reasonably” believe they or another person are being threatened with death, severe injury or rape only. It affirms, however; the fact that we should not be looking for confrontation with guns, using them as weapons, but rather using them only as tools of last resort (or for hunting animals of course).
I wonder as a people why we see only certain things as travesties or things worth marching in protest about. In this city of Flint, we just had two triple homicides in recent weeks. No marches. In Chicago, youth are being killed at an alarming rate. No marches. We proclaim the plight of the Americans of African descent, but seemingly not when they are killing themselves. The saddest thing about Trayvon’s death to me is the loss of his potential. We have no idea what he could have grown up to be. Maybe he would have been a doctor, lawyer, inventor, president, athlete, entertainer, minister, teacher, or any other productive profession you can think of. However, as a person who works with inner city youth as a coach and minister, I see this same loss of potential everyday with no one screaming about apartheid. Parents are abandoning kids and leaving them to raise themselves. I cannot tell you how many kids I take all over the state and other nearby states that parents never even take the time to find out who I am. They are more than happy with having these boys out of their hair for a while. What happens when they leave the confines and structure of practices and games, well too often they find it in the cold hierarchy of the street.
Further, how many future members of society have we loss in choosing to kill them before they ever had a chance? Pro-choice vs. Pro-life is a pseudo argument. The fact is that there is always a choice. God designed it that way. Adam and Eve had a choice to choose life as do we. But so often we have chosen to terminate. We blame others, when we do a far better job of taking ourselves out by comparison. In 2007 alone, the rate of abortions among American women of African descent ages 15-44 was 3.5 times more than their European counterparts despite accounting for 5 times less of the population of women in that same age bracket. 4.8% of all babies conceived in that age group and cultural class were aborted. How many of them were doctors, lawyers, inventors, etc.? This is not apartheid, not at all, but rather genocide. No marches. What about Tonya Reaves, who was killed by a botched abortion in Chicago on July 20, 2012 at a Planned Parenthood clinic. Not even a mention from presidential candidates during the election process that year, despite it being from the incumbent’s home town. No marches for the thousands that go unreported. No 100-day themes or fancy catch phrases for them, no marches….none.
Let me be clear here, the killing of Trayvon Martin was a huge problem in this country. An even bigger problem is our reluctance to get out and do something about the problems in this country BEFORE they become high-profile. How many are working with at-risk youth? How many are investing their time in the educational process of our young people? How many are volunteering to mentor and guide? Or does volunteering not pay enough? Does it not bring enough media attention? I posted a picture of a pro-Zimmerman sign at a local business and my Twitter page blew up. I post pictures, videos, stories, etc. of my non-profit basketball club that helps many kids and I get a few responses. Another club named after a famous basketball player that may do less will get national attention because of the high-profile of the player. Point is, as a people we largely gravitate to what brings the most pats on the back, high fives, or “at-a-boys.” Do we really want to affect change or just be a part of the next movement to “turn up” society? How about we turn up at church, school, and home?
Ironically, I found inspiration from the strangest of sources. The day of the Martin/Zimmerman verdict I was watching an episode of “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” circa 1974. I realized that whatever people think of Bill Cosby now, he was way ahead of his time in trying to foster education, understanding, and peace. At the end of each episode at that time, the guys performed a song as the junkyard band based on the theme of the show. This one just happened to be on race relations as they learned to depend on each other during the episode at a boys’ summer camp. The song is what got my attention though. It is the thought that if we could just grasp to it could change the world. The song said, “…we live in one world, and this is the place. We are one people, the human race…” This came in a time where this country was embroiled in racial confrontation, but yet these thoughts emerged. How much more now should we be able to embrace the idea? We continue to let melanin in only the top layer of our skin determine our thoughts. We continue to think of ourselves as polar opposites. Until we don’t, it will only get worse.