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It is past time that Blacks’ behavior reflects their prolonged suffering from racism and the criminal justice system. George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict was only the latest of countless officially sanctioned murders of unarmed Black men and boys. The verdict triggered nationwide outrage and that’s a good thing. However, the question this column often poses still obtains, i.e., will Blacks’ righteous outrage be sustained? It has rarely happened since the civil rights movement.
Coincidentally, three or four recent columns in this space dealt with the need for unified action to offset what has become a stifling complacency born of silence and disunity among Black people themselves: June 20th – Complacency Ensures Blacks’ Current Status; July 4th – Blacks’ Righteous Outrage Must Be Sustained; July 11th – The Price of Black Disunity is Much Too High. Each column underscores that the silence of Black people, themselves, renders them complicit in their own oppression.
The odds are that Blacks’ widespread outrage over Zimmerman’s “stand your ground” not guilty verdict will also be short-lived, but this needn’t be the case. A good sign is the many youth-led protests over the verdict across the country. But Black youth need to be mentored and their participation sustained by experienced committed elders whose responsibility is to provide sound direction and sustainability. However, for some time now, elders themselves have failed to model such leadership. The odds, notwithstanding, it is imperative that the Black community sees the travesty of justice for Trayvon Martin as an opportunity to bring its collective weight to bear- first demanding that Attorney General Eric Holder file a civil rights lawsuit against George Zimmerman. (The most recent precedent for such a lawsuit is Rodney King’s successful civil case, albeit against LAPD officers.) Despite Holder’s remarks following the verdict denouncing Trayvon’s killing, it is by no means certain he will actually file a civil rights lawsuit against George Zimmerman. Sustained public pressure might be the only way to make this happen.
The national NAACP quickly called for such an investigation. But the Justice Department just as quickly qualified its position by indicating its jurisdiction is limited: “Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution after a state trial.” Criminal law experts are saying that the prosecutors made a tactical mistake by charging Zimmerman with second degree murder. Many feel the case should never have been brought because the evidence for second-degree murder pointed to reasonable doubt. Be that as it may, there is no doubt whatsoever, that Black men and boys are prime targets for the police and white citizen vigilante groups or that Zimmerman’s actions provoked young Trayvon.
Remember, the judge instructed jurors they could also consider a charge of manslaughter. However, despite asking the court for clarification on a manslaughter charge that requires a lower standard of proof than for second-degree murder, the jury chose to find Zimmerman not guilty of the latter, and he was freed instantly.
If convicted of manslaughter, Zimmerman would have been sent to prison for killing 17-year-old Trayvon, instead, he walked. Arguably, the six women jurors (all but one white) ultimately, were more concerned about freeing George Zimmerman than providing justice for Trayvon Martin. And although Florida’s “stand your ground” law was not invoked by Zimmerman’s lawyers, it was the broader context allowing Zimmerman, a self-described Latino, to stalk and provoke the unarmed Black teenager, with impunity.
Legal experts also point out that constitutional protections against double jeopardy do not apply, even if the federal government charges a federal crime after a state acquittal, but only when a compelling federal interest can be established. Since filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against George Zimmerman does not require a compelling federal interest, politics aside, such a filing should be a no-brainer, based on evidence presented during the trial. What do you say, Eric Holder? And President Obama, where do you stand on this issue?
As usual, white privilege is the elephant in the room, not only in this case, but as the primary barrier to full justice and equity throughout America. For Blacks, effectively confronting this reality requires new leadership based on explicitly established common ground and moral and ethical principles. It also means collaborating with other groups on the basis of mutual self-interests, accountability and benefit. In other words, a paradigm shift from individualistic and materialistic principles is necessary.
The overwhelming response of outrage and disbelief to the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman throughout the nation is encouraging. Here in Los Angeles, large demonstrations in the Crenshaw district and Leimert Park and shutting down the 10-Freeway temporarily, hopefully, signal the beginning of new commitments to sustain and transform righteous outrage into a collective resolve focusing on strategies that unapologetically benefit African Americans.
Blacks must define and stand their own (common) ground based on new thinking and new leadership. George Zimmerman’s acquittal was a travesty of justice. But this time, maybe, just maybe, the widespread righteous outrage and indignation over the verdict is the beginning of sustainable commitments that challenge the racist roots of social and economic injustice. Blacks must work cooperatively among themselves and collaborate with others to reduce the likelihood of “ Trayvon” being killed again and again.