Unfortunately, the picture above is correct. There will be another Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, sadly. The names will change, but the crime’s root problem will remain. This narrative of racially motivated crimes and the criminalization of Black and Latino males is not new. In 1833, almost a 180 years ago, Fredrick Douglas wrote about the South’s tendency to impute crime to color. In other words, crime and color were conflated, thought of as one. Thus, the perpetrator of any crime was thought to be black. Accordingly, there were Whites who took advantage of this ideology and purposely ingrained it in our societal consciousness. There was a period when Whites would color their faces and then commit crimes. Black faced criminals. They would often commit these crimes at night and would get away. Then, when the sheriff began his investigation he would accuse innocent Blacks, who could not defend themselves legally, especially with an all white jury, or socially from the hooded viligantes known as the KKK. Such criminal actions of these White men in black face paint instilled and manifested our country’s negative assumption about its black brothers. Not surprisingly, those notions of Black, and now Latino, males are prevalent in our modern society. See any resemblance to the Trayvon Martin case. Yep, his story is not exceptional but the norm. The foundation has been set and we continue to build on that faulty, yet sturdy framework. Heck, whenever I see a group of teenage males, regardless of color because I know the violence that White males are capable of as well, I get nervous and suspicious.
Am I the next Zimmerman?
With the question, I am not insisting or implying that I would violently and nonsensically attack and kill a seemingly suspicious person. What I am suggesting though is that the narrative of violence against the other, and in our country the other is non-White, is so strong and prevalent that when I get nervous around those groups of young men, I am certain that I think a thought that
led caused allowed Zimmerman to call the police 46 times about suspicious behavior in his neighborhood since 2011. I am certain that Zimmerman and I share similar stereotypes. How could we not? We both were raised in a White dominant culture, whose teaching of these narratives are prevalent and pervasive. Heck, we all know those stereotypes about each other, ranging from race to sexual orientation to religion. So when I see all of these people proclaiming and suggesting that they may be the next Trayvon Martin, I pause and ask myself, am I the next Zimmerman?
On another note, I question what should happen to Zimmerman? While I am outraged at the fact that he was not arrested at the scene of the crime, which seems like standard procedure, I am not sure if he should go to jail and/or receive the death penalty. Prison is the de facto form of punishment in this country. With every homicide case there are strong emotional claims made by the victim’s family that the perpetrator should be punished, either by spending a considerable time in prison or by receiving the death penalty. Heck, I confessed a few days ago that I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and hurt I would feel if my son was senselessly murdered. I am not in any way detracting from the mountain of emotions that one must feel when losing a loved one to a crime. I do however question the need for an instant solution, which prison provides. Lock the “bad people” away from society is the motto. This accomplishes, according to Dr. Angela Davis, an escape of thinking of the root problem; it allows a solution to NOT thinking of the problem because the problem has been removed. While the problem may be moved, has it been solved? Our judicial system operates on revenge and punishment. And it does not work. In fact, the prison system replicates and reproduces the very ills of society. The civil death that prisoners encounter often leads them right back to the system or unable to ever fully regain full citizenship to our society; those punished are forever sentenced to a life of second-class citizenship. Oh, the prison is a system, structurally designed, according to Michelle Alexander’s new book, The New Jim Crow, to suppress Black and Latino males, which has innumerable consequences for our country. Thus, I am not sure if placing Zimmerman in prison will accomplish anything meaningful for our society.
So what should we do with Zimmerman?
I am currently reading Touching Spirit Bear, which within the storyline proposes a Native-American inspired reformative opportunity for a young male perpetrator. The healing circle, a council of concerned and invested community members including the victim and his parents, meet to discuss ways to reform the protagonist, Cole. They ultimately decide to provide him a chance to learn from his mistakes, with the faithful hope that he does. During his first attempt at redemption, he tries to escape the solitary island on which he was to spend time learning about nature and, more importantly, himself. Fortunately, he is given a second chance and this time around, he changes. The course of his learning takes roughly two years, which in our microwave/fast food generation seems like an eternity for justice. Though I am not finished with the novel, Cole has grown and is at a point in which he wants to help his victim heal. He learns that his healing is intrinsically tied to the healing of the one he hurt.
Imagine a reformative process, which allows Zimmerman to deal with his own personal demons, which he undoubtedly has. Once done, he then has to find a way to contribute to the healing of Trayvon’s family and community. The end result would be one that revolutionizes the concept of justice; making it a reformative opportunity, which ironically prison was initially constructed to do. This solution would actually solve the root problem for Zimmerman and help Trayvon’s family heal from their loss. Such a concept, based on love and forgiveness, is foreign and alien to us here in the United States, in part because of the time it requires.
Love, forgiveness, relationships, and healing all require time. There are many scholars who speculate that real change in our culture will take roughly five generations to happen. And that is if we start now.