Liza Lugo: Reaction to the Zimmerman verdict


Published: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 12:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 12:00 p.m.

The Zimmerman verdict resulted in a sad day for all Americans. Perhaps it does not matter whether one believed in the guilt or innocence of the accused. The only individuals who know exactly what happened are Zimmerman and Martin. One is not able to tell the story. Quite frankly, the only persons who had access to all of the evidence (admissible and inadmissible) were the attorneys on either side; and, if the attorneys had difficulty in trying the facts of this case, it will certainly pose a challenge for laymen. Some issues will remain unchallenged: Treyvon Martin is dead and his family is devastated. While not everything is a race issue, we still have a problem. It's still here

For some reason, many Americans are surprised at the verdict but I, for one, am not. I am also not surprised at the reaction to the verdict and that includes the passion (be it rhetoric or truth) from both sides. However, (from what I have read), it is interesting that among those who publicly announced on Facebook their support of the Zimmerman verdict, not one is an African-American; yet, those who disagree with the verdict seem to come from all backgrounds and ethnicities. But of course, not everyone will make their views known on a social networking site. Certainly, I am not accusing anyone of being a “racist.” I also do not refer to the Facebook comments as representative of all Americans. Naturally, that is a very small sampling; however, it is still interesting.

“Where are all these angry people when black teens are killing black teens?”

” Zimmerman had the right to defend himself, color was NOT a factor, and if he had been prosecuted for defending himself when attacked by a racist…then the justice system would have erred.”

“…Martin may have been innocent, but like any other person not recognized in a gated community, he could have very well been up to something as well. That's what neighborhood watch is for.”

Really? “That is what a neighborhood watch is for?” A “person not recognized in a gated community.” I guess everyone knows everyone in a gated community. Who lives there? Who doesn’t? Who can live there? Who can’t? Who can visit? Who can’t? Who gets to make these decisions? Who the heck makes the decision about who is on the neighborhood watch? C’mon.

“You can shoot an innocent kid and not even get manslaughter?”

This was a murder trial – not a race trial, at least not officially. There were no accusations of violating civil rights – at least not yet, though today the NAACP called for the Department of Justice to prosecute Zimmerman on civil rights charges. What has made it a race trial is the community reaction in response to the media, which is evidence of our pathology. When cases like the Zimmerman trial (involving a white-looking male accused of murdering a black male) and the case involving Marissa Alexander (a black female accused of firing warning shots where no one died), which applied the same “Stand Your Ground Law,” result in radically different verdicts, it is difficult for many not see it as a race issue.

This concerns me; or, better stated, it is an issue that always has disturbed me. My concern is that our nation continues to suffer from the symptoms of a pathology that developed over hundreds of years. Logical reasoning dictates that a 400-year old pathology, which annexed the psyche of American culture, cannot be cured in a decade and a half (this new millennium). Even more disturbing is that many more are still in denial of the disease when they say that racism is “no longer a problem.” While it is not an impossible task, I would pose a challenge to those who say that -- if they have never been a victim of dehumanization - racial, ethnic, religious, sexual-orientation, disability, or sex: is this really over? o not give a quick response, for you will never really understand until you study two major issues:

1. The 400-plus year history of the abuse, brutality, indifference. and relegation to second-class citizenship of specific groups of Americans based on the above list, and

2. The current status of these Americans.

Discrimination, or more appropriately termed, dehumanization, was and is perpetuated and sanctioned by law -- engrained into the fabric of American society and government well into the 20th Century. We are only 13 years into the 21st Century. If you still believe, “these days are over,” I further challenge you to take a look at the blood-relative laws instituted in St. Bernard Parish following Hurricane Katrina. I can assure you, it’s not over. St. Bernard Parish finally settled out of court just two months ago. And take a look at the statistics on hate crimes in this nation. According to the FBI, between 1996 and 1999, a four-year period alone:

23,265 single bias incidents based on race occurred

36,647 people were victimized

“Anti-black” crimes totaled 15,422 amounting to 66 percent of the total (however, African-Americans make up just 13 percent of the total American population).

15,893 victims are African-American, more than 43 percent of all victims

Whites made up just over 12 percent of all victims.

More than 21,000 of offenders motivated by racial hatred were white, over 65 percent of all offenders.

Even more incidents, offenders, and victims include non-white ethnic minorities, religious biases, homosexuals, those with disabilities and women.

The incidents continue in the 21st Century. When the seeds of hatred and ethnocentrism are planted and fostered in society, it negatively affects every area of life.

Racial stratification continues in America today in areas of government, employment, education, lending, housing, and, of course, criminal justice. The statistics are overwhelming. On August 29, 2005, that reality was made all too clear when Hurricane Katrina’s winds blew into New Orleans. Oddly enough, upon the onslaught of each and every incident and its aftermath, the question posed and still remains, “How did this happen?” Quite simply, it can be articulated as: it has been happening. We will never eliminate discrimination and racism through public policy alone, because, quite simply, it is impossible to legislate the mind.

More than a century has passed since W. E. B. Du Bois famously remarked that the “problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.”[5] Du Bois was wrong – “the problem of the” 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th Century “is the problem of the color line.” It is no different in this new millennium.

Liza Lugo is an author who lives in El Paso, Texas. She earned a law degree from the University of Florida.

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