George Zimmerman’s story has become similar to that of the boy who cried wolf, with some very interesting twists along the way.
The gist of the original story is that if one “cries wolf” and reports trouble falsely time after time, it’s hard for folks to believe the cries when real trouble is reported. Enter George Zimmerman, the vigilante neighborhood watchmen that killed Trayvon Martin, a teenaged black boy whose family lived in the same neighborhood. Zimmerman claimed he was attacked and beaten, and felt threatened by this young kid returning from the corner store with a drink and candy for himself and his brother. Police said Zimmerman was justified in his use of lethal force. He was let off the hook for killing Trayvon Martin– for attacking a neighborhood kid and killing him after police told Zimmerman to back down and essentially mind his business (though considering the trend of the last few months, I wonder what authorities would have done if they’d come to “check out the scene” Zimmerman painted). He was let off the hook for that. Since then, Zimmerman has been arrested on several occasions involving domestic violence and gun charges. Feel free to peruse his Wikipedia page for a fairly extensive look at his criminal history.
A major issue I have with George Zimmerman is the same issue I have with most killers of unarmed Black men, women and children: as they continue to grow in number, we find that many have previous offenses, or were written up at and/or let go from other departments. I have a problem with how many second chances these guys get. It seems like we give and give to real criminals but take the lives and livelihood from real victims. Killers are given chance after chance in spite of questionable or outright criminal behavior while unarmed victims are murdered and then taken apart by the courts and the media. I take offense with how our bodies are dubbed guilty until proven innocent. I take offense with seemingly clear cut cases not even making it to court. I take offense with murderers within our police forces being allowed administrative leave and paid vacation. My question is, why do largely innocent and unarmed people of color not get the same “chances” that child killers and vigilantes get? Why don’t these victims, all accused of some kind of suspicious behavior, get the privilege of at least being arrested or detained? If these victims are really guilty of crimes (most of the alleged crimes, victimless), then why don’t these unarmed people of color get the privilege of “de-escalation”– of being maced or tazed, or even non-lethally shot? Why do police and other vigilantes get the privilege of escalating situations with excessive violence and gun use? Why are there active police officers with rap sheets longer than their unarmed victims? And of course, I know why these victims are not awarded the same privileges or benefit of the doubt awarded to other, less marginalized populations, so these are all rhetorical questions.
We have to consider how life is devalued for those of us along the margins and how the justice system handles crimes against us– Black people, women, elderly, mentally ill, etc. Concerning George Zimmerman, women and Black boys make up the demographics of his victims: alleged domestic violence and assaulting a police officer in 2005, the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, two instances of domestic violence involving a firearm in 2013, following another driver into a parking lot and threatening to kill them in 2014. Recent trouble includes more domestic violence. Charge after charge has been dropped, by his victims and by local police. All the while, Zimmerman files restraining orders against victims, as he insists on taking the role of victim himself. When I look at Zimmerman specifically, I see an unnerving sense of entitlement coupled with blinding rage. I see our justice system making allowances and being lenient with him and several others like him. When I look at these things on a grander scale, I see the government and justice system’s far reaching lack of commitment to women and people of color, especially where those two groups intersect. I see it in the countless legislative bills passed governing women’s bodies concerning contraception, abortion, maternity leave, etc. I see Black girls and boys missing, but not genuinely searched for. I see Black men, women, and children murdered in the streets and left for dead. I see why rape victims don’t report and why Black people hesitate to call the police– they’re either committing the crimes or failing to protect and advocate for real victims.
So when we look to figure out why George Zimmerman, Darren Wilson and others like them are able to continue on living comfortably, why police with rap sheets are able to continue wielding their guns and batons on the innocent, we need only to look to the majority of the victims. We need only to look to the smear campaigns that follow the deaths of unarmed Black people and other people of color. We need only to look at this system that has only seen women and people of color as outsiders and animals from its inception. How far gone are we when we have to demand that people recognize that our lives matter? And where is the line between demanding that recognition and falling wholly into blind Black rage?
When I struggle to understand how we can so proudly continue this trend of protecting and coddling killers while vilifying real victims, I’m reminded of a quote from Vann Newkirk (Twitter user @fivefifths)–
“A system cannot fail those it was never built to protect.”
I can’t say that I’m filled with hope when I consider that statement that has now proven itself to be fact dozens of times in 2014 alone. What does give me strength though, are the hundreds and thousands of American citizens and global citizens who took to the streets these last six months to take back their cities and families. I’m inspired by those who marched and sang and interrupted life as we knew it to expose this system for the trap it really is. I’m reminded of how our parents and grandparents did the same for us not so long ago. With this cycle in mind, I can’t honestly gauge if it will be our generation, or generations that follow that will see this system disbanded and rebuilt. But I don’t waiver in my belief that change will come, because the same blood that brought us over land and sea to this place still flows freely within us. So, yeah, the Zimmermans and Wilsons do exist, much like the Bull Connors and Jim Clarks existed, as well as the red faces armed with bats and caddle prods on Bloody Sunday. But we exist too. And I have a hard time believing we’ve been through this much, on this Earth, for nothing.