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‘I Am Not Trayvon Martin’ Provides a Much Needed Reflection on Race in America

‘I Am Not Trayvon Martin’ Provides a Much Needed Reflection on Race in America

I’m the last person who should have anything to say about Trayvon Martin and the Zimmerman verdict. I’m a white girl from the American Midwest. I know nothing about racism or the effect it has on the lives of people of color. While it seems that the court wanted to ignore the racial component of this case, it seems undeniable that race was important.

But I ran across something the other day that really hit home. It’s a Tumblr called I Am Not Trayvon Martin. At first I thought it might be some kind of white supremacist malarkey and I almost didn’t click the link. However, it turns out to be a cogent reflection on race and privilege in modern America.

I Am Trayvon Martin is full of stories from people who recognize that racism has touched their lives. As I read through these stories, the unfairness of what happened to Martin became more acute, if that is even possible. Here are some excerpts:

- I am not Trayvon Martin. I am a 23 year old blonde white woman. Last night I walked around my family’s upper middle class, gated community smoking marijuana with another young white woman. We made no attempt to conceal this fact, and we were politely acknowledged by security guards ‘patrolling’ the area. We were not stopped by anyone at any time. We were neither quiet nor considerate of our neighbors, but we were invisible, even untouchable, in a way that Trayvon never was.

- I am not Trayvon Martin. I am a 47 year old white woman who got caught 3 times in a 2 year period driving without insurance and with a suspended license. Not only was I not arrested, one time the police gave me a ride home because they had impounded my car.

- I am not Trayvon Martin — but my father, cousin, and brother are. I am a twenty four year old African American woman and I have a brother two years younger than me, and even younger cousin, and a father I adore. I have lived and known these Trayvon Martin’s all my life — but now the paranoia is setting in.

My father is the mayor of a small city in Texas and I never thought I would feel out right terror in seeing him walking the sidewalks at twilight in an all white area. He was looking for an fallen tree branch in a power line that a citizen had called him about — and I watched him from the car — walking the sidewalks and almost in between houses looking for it. I didn’t realize how scared I was until I nearly lost sight of him. What if he met a George Zimmerman in a place I couldn’t see him?

And when he was late picking me up from work — my heart filled instantly with fear. Where is he? Did something happen? Did he meet a George Zimmerman… and the scary thing is that I’ve never felt this way before. I’ve always been worried about my brother and cousin because they are young, and they are boys… and boys do stupid things. But I never worried about my father before — the man who raised me. The man I’ve always looked to to fix and solve all of our family problems. Who leads by example and is looked up to by our family, church, and town. The one person who literally keeps our family together even if we don’t realize it.

I am not Trayvon Martin — but it scares me to think that my father could be. It scares me to death.

There are so many stories, and they are spot on. Look, I’m not going to be another Trayvon Martin. I’m more than a little ashamed to admit this, but almost no one I know will be another Trayvon Martin. As a white woman I am not burdened with this country’s racial history. I understand what people are trying to say when they change their Facebook status to or tweet the phrase, We are all Trayvon Martin. It’s meant to convey solidarity and a shared feeling of of outrage at this injustice.

But in the end, that’s easy for someone like me to say.

It feels weird and disingenuous to basically co-opt the experiences of people of color. I can ignore racism. That’s my privilege. It’s not bad to recognize it; in fact, I think it’s the only way forward. By claiming that anyone could have been Trayvon Martin that night erases the very real differences in treatment between white people and people of color. I know people mean well, but that’s unfair.

I don’t want to imply that people of all races can’t be angry and saddened and mobilized by the Zimmerman verdict. Of course you can, and we all should be. But be careful not to ignore the realities of our society in the process.

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Photo Credit: Stuart Tracte

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133 comments

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11:10AM PDT on Jul 28, 2013

Yes Pat you are likely correct MLK is likely not rolling in his grave at all. he would be happy with some of the improvements made. But he would also be very sad that racisms is still far too rampant in our system.

11:07AM PDT on Jul 28, 2013

We WERE over it Pat until thr right started opushing the idea that Zimmerman was a hero.

I understand how our system works and acepted thre Jury's verdict. the difference is I recognize that being ruled as not guilty of a pqrticualr accusaton doesnt make you innocent of many other charges. Whats being judged here by people like me is the system itself. It was painfully obvious to me Zimerman was lying about many things. His interview with those HUMUNGOUS frikking banadages all over the back of his head and the tiny lil cut on his nose. For chrissakes he wasnt even bleeding when he got to the police station. They were minor cuts. Within the confines of the judges instructions they found him not guilty of that charge. He is, however, frar from innocent of many other related things…….

7:13AM PDT on Jul 28, 2013

Geez, get over it. The defense cast a shadow of doubt. The prosecution witnesses did Trayvon more harm than good. "Feeling" he was guilty is based on emotion and cannot be used to reach a verdict. They were well versed, again and again, of the law. In hind sight they are saying just what the media wants them to say. It is all about their 5 minutes of fame. Now it's being used as a catapult for other cases, even the riots are being praised and justified.
Is there racism in the US? absolutely, but it is NOT ONE SIDED and until the media and Jesse Jackson along with Al Sharpton quit going after fame and glory racism will be around for ever. MLK, God Bless Him, is probably rolling over in his grave with everything that is happening.

9:15PM PDT on Jul 27, 2013

(continued - sorry about the double-post)


But the jury, many convinced with an abiding sense of Zimmerman's guilt, weren't advised on all of the law; the judge decided that the court wasn't going to give it...

9:07PM PDT on Jul 27, 2013

(continued - sorry about the double-post)


The only minority on the all-female jury that voted to acquit George Zimmerman said today that Zimmerman "got away with murder" for killing Trayvon Martin and feels she owes an apology Martin's parents.

"You can't put the man in jail even though in our hearts we felt he was guilty," said the woman who was identified only as Juror B29 during the trial. "But we had to grab our hearts and put it aside and look at the evidence."

She said the jury was following Florida law and the evidence, she said, did not prove murder. ...

... "George Zimmerman got away with murder, but you can't get away from God. And at the end of the day, he's going to have a lot of questions and answers he has to deal with," Maddy said. "[But] the law couldn't prove it." ...


... As a mother, Maddy said she has had trouble adjusting to life after the verdict, and has wrestled with whether she made the right decision.

"I felt like I let a lot of people down, and I'm thinking to myself, 'Did I go the right way? Did I go the wrong way?'" she said.

"As much as we were trying to find this man guilty…they give you a booklet that basically tells you the truth, and the truth is that there was nothing that we could do about it," she said. "I feel the verdict was already told." ...


But the jury, many convinced with an abiding sense of Zimmerman's guilt, weren't advised on all of the law; the judge decided that the court wasn't going to give

9:06PM PDT on Jul 27, 2013

(continued - sorry about the double-post)


... The state attempted to rebut the defense's argument by noting the defense's request for a separate instruction regarding the legality of following a person. Judge Nelson responded, "We're not there yet," then quickly ruled without elaboration: "The defense does not want to give [the initial aggressor exception]; the state does. The court is not going to give it."

The court is not going to give it.

That may have been the moment when Zimmerman got acquitted. The end result was that jurors were told only about the parts of Florida self-defense law that benefited the defendant, without knowing anything about the most relevant potential limitation. ...


... A properly instructed jury should have heard the complete law of self-defense in Florida, not just the portions that helped Zimmerman. Had the jury been instructed about the initial aggressor exception, it might have concluded that Zimmerman's following of Martin, though itself not criminal, was reasonably apprehended by Martin as a "threat of force." Put another way, the jury might have concluded that Martin was the one acting in self-defense during the physical confrontation that preceded the gunshot, making Zimmerman the aggressor. ...


http://abcnews.go.com/US/george-zimmerman-juror-murder/story?id=19770659

George Zimmerman Juror Says 'In Our Hearts, We Felt He Was Guilty'




By ALYSSA NEWCOMB (@alyssanewcomb)
July 25, 2013

The only minority o

9:03PM PDT on Jul 27, 2013

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alafair-burke/george-zimmerman-jury-instructions_b_3596685.html


Alafair Burke

Novelist, Criminal Law Professor

What You May Not Know About the Zimmerman Verdict: The Evolution of a Jury Instruction
Posted: 07/15/2013

... Why Jury Instructions Matter

In our system, we leave questions of fact to a jury. But to render a verdict, a jury must know the law. For this, we rely upon jury instructions. Instructions are supposed to translate the law into lay terms that the jury can apply to the facts as they determine them. ...


... Even Florida's broad self-defense statutory scheme follows traditional self-defense limitations by prohibiting "initial aggressors" from using force provoked by their own conduct. A defendant in Florida cannot claim self-defense if he "initially provokes the use of force" against himself, unless he either withdraws from the conflict and conveys the withdrawal to the other party (the legal equivalent of "saying 'uncle'") or uses reasonable escape options to avoid death or great bodily harm (in other words, the initial aggressor has no right to stand his ground; he must retreat). ...


... The state attempted to rebut the defense's argument by noting the defense's request for a separate instruction regarding the legality of following a person. Judge Nelson responded, "We're not there yet," then quickly ruled without elaboration: "The defense does not want to give [the initial aggressor exception]; the sta

9:01PM PDT on Jul 27, 2013

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alafair-burke/george-zimmerman-jury-instructions_b_3596685.html


Alafair Burke

Novelist, Criminal Law Professor

What You May Not Know About the Zimmerman Verdict: The Evolution of a Jury Instruction
Posted: 07/15/2013

... Why Jury Instructions Matter

In our system, we leave questions of fact to a jury. But to render a verdict, a jury must know the law. For this, we rely upon jury instructions. Instructions are supposed to translate the law into lay terms that the jury can apply to the facts as they determine them. ...


... Even Florida's broad self-defense statutory scheme follows traditional self-defense limitations by prohibiting "initial aggressors" from using force provoked by their own conduct. A defendant in Florida cannot claim self-defense if he "initially provokes the use of force" against himself, unless he either withdraws from the conflict and conveys the withdrawal to the other party (the legal equivalent of "saying 'uncle'") or uses reasonable escape options to avoid death or great bodily harm (in other words, the initial aggressor has no right to stand his ground; he must retreat). ...


... The state attempted to rebut the defense's argument by noting the defense's request for a separate instruction regarding the legality of following a person. Judge Nelson responded, "We're not there yet," then quickly ruled without elaboration: "The defense does not want to give [the initial aggressor exception]; the

3:58PM PDT on Jul 25, 2013

The stand your ground case has entirely too much lattitude in it. It needs to be reigned in.

2:22PM PDT on Jul 25, 2013

(continued)


On July 16th further evidence was released to the public that implicates the parents involvement in the child’s death. Police tests immediately following the shooting revealed gun powder on the hands of both Sherry West and the baby’s father, Louis Santiago. Santiago claimed that he was nowhere near the scene of the shooting. This evidence too, was withheld for months, until the defense attorney in the case demanded that it be released in mid July. ...

... If our underlying belief system continues to reinforce the idea that the black person is always the guilty party, there’s little to stop people like Sherry West and George Zimmerman, from staging murders of white people or black people, of teenagers and even toddlers of any color, having full confidence that as long as they implicate a black person, no-one will even question their innocence.



To this I'd add - even if a whole lot of easily disproven smears have to be used to 'justify' the murders of/accusations against the darker-skinned party...

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