I believe the George Zimmerman verdict will be of greater racial and civil significance for blacks than the O.J. Simpson trial.
First of all, there is no epidemic of old black ex-football player movie stars (allegedly) killing their young white wives and their friends.
But there has been a dramatic increase in the number of black males killed by whites under “stand your ground” laws. Defendants claiming “stand your ground” as a justification for their acts of violence are more likely to prevail if the victim is black. Seventy-three percent of those who killed a black person faced no penalty, compared with 59 percent of those who killed a white person, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
It’s not so hard to imagine that this not guilty verdict might just give any white man the ammunition (pun intended) or gumption to approach any black man on the street and ask them anything they want, such as: “What are you doing? Where are you going? Why are you here?”
And what if the black man tells his white inquisitor to back off and the white man responds in a menacing way or tries to detain him or attempts to lay hands on him? And what if the black fellow refuses to surrender to the stranger? How is it that he becomes the criminal and the white man has the right to kill him?
We may be returning to a practice that was common in past times when, if a white man was walking on a sidewalk and a black person was walking toward him on the same sidewalk, the black person had to step into the ditch or road and give the white man the whole sidewalk to pass.
One other thing that makes the Zimmerman case far more significant than the Simpson case is that what Zimmerman was accused of, and what the police are often guilty of, is denying people of color due process and equal treatment with their disparate use of official violence. And they are often willing to use deadly force even when their lives are not in danger and their victims are unarmed.
According to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a black man, woman or child died at the trigger of law enforcement every 28 hours in America last year.
It’s easy to kill, but to be civilized is to help people live and to seek ways to end animosity and needless death. You can’t fall into the trap of criminalizing youth or using blanket stereotypes or fearing and wanting to kill someone because they don’t look like you.
That’s why the verdict in the Zimmerman case was so uncivilized, and why it will leave a deep scar for many years to come.
Kevin Alexander Gray is a writer for Progressive Media Project.