All I know Is This 17-Year-Old Boy Got Killed.

Trayvon MartinThe implicit conclusion from the Zimmerman verdict is that racial profiling is still okay in this country.  And this decision does not stand alone.  Racial profiling doesn’t simply apply to African Americans, but to all minorities, lest we forget recent legislation passed in the state of Arizona and elsewhere.  What’s particularly troubling and offensive to many Americans about the Zimmerman verdict is that the judicial system reinforces the divisions that already exist.

The Stand Your Ground state law in Florida can be so loosely construed that it validates what amounts to vigilante violence outside the rule of law. This is not only about race, but also about what we as a society will tolerate when it comes to gun violence.  The Zimmerman case is what we hear about.  The Grant –vs- Mehserle case is what we’ve heard about.  Tragic incidents such as these beg us to ask what life would be like if fewer guns were available on the street.  While both cases are conspicuous examples of racial profiling, and while the victims in both cases were minority youths, the real issues at stake go beyond race.   Does this mean that anyone owning a registered firearm can roam the streets like Charles Bronson?  If it seems like an unlikely parallel, it is not.  (Bronson’s entire Death Wish series had to do with the fantasy of vigilante power.)  The Zimmerman verdict makes tragically real the Hollywood scripts that have fueled American male vigilante fantasies for the last 30 years.

Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder.  This is our legal system.  But that’s not what’s at stake.  This case is about civil rights. We are accustomed to thinking about civil rights on a larger scale and we don’t typically reduce it to individual acts of transgression.  But murder sells.  The issue of civil rights does not—it’s too big.  We think of civil rights as a social issue within our culture as a whole, and we resist understanding how those rights are violated daily by individuals.  Murder is a crime.  Civil rights is an issue.  But what happened to Trayvon Martin was both.  He was a victim of murder and his civil rights were violated. What’s even worse is this child is being vilified posthumously.

Fringe right wing groups have supported the Zimmerman defense effort in hopes of establishing legal precedent for allowing registered guns on the street.  They’ve won the battle with the not guilty verdict and this country has buried a 17-year-old boy.

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