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Cross-Post: Trayvon Martin and America’s Racist Underbelly

Imagine 2050 Staff • Mar 24, 2012

Originally posted by Alternet on March 23rd.

The second world war had a civilizing influence on Buford Posey, a white man raised in the Deep South during the Depression. “When I was coming up in Mississippi I never knew it was against the law to kill a black man,” he says. “I learned that when I went in the army. I was 17 years old. When they told me I thought they were joking.”

Some 70 years later it’s clear not everybody got that memo. Three weeks ago in Sanford, Florida, a neighbourhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, shot dead an unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin, as he walked home from the store. Zimmerman, who is Latino, called the emergency services because he thought Martin, 17, looked “suspicious” and then, against the advice of the dispatcher, followed him. The two men fought. Martin died. Zimmerman emerged, bleeding from the nose and the back of his head, claiming he shot Martin in self-defence because he was in fear of his life.

Zimmerman was neither charged nor arrested. Under Florida’s “stand your ground” statute, deadly force is permitted if the person “reasonably believes” it is necessary to protect their own life, the life of another or to prevent a forcible felony. Zimmerman weighs 250lbs and had a 9mm handgun; Martin weighed 140lbs and had a packet of Skittles and a can of iced tea. Being a young black male, it seems, is reason enough.

One can only speculate as to Zimmerman’s intentions. Efforts to create a crude morality play around this shooting in which Martin is sanctified and Zimmerman is pathologized miss the point. Zimmerman’s assumptions on seeing Martin may have been reprehensible but they were not illogical. Black men in America are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted and executed than any other group. With almost one in 10 black men behind bars there are more of them in prison, on probation or on parole today than were enslaved in 1850. To assume that when you see a black man you see a criminal is rooted in the fact that black men have been systematically criminalized. That excuses nothing but explains a great deal.

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