Zimmerman Article Misses the Mark

Jonathan Stoll and Heather Harbeck
Diversity Center Manager & Diversity Center Graduate Assistant

The op-ed from the Pioneer’s July 18, 2013, “Zimmerman Verdict a Victory of Justice System” initially comes across as a grossly inaccurate assessment of the recent Zimmerman verdict.  Upon further reflection, the recent Zimmerman verdict is, in fact, a victory for a historically inequitable, unjust, and discriminatory justice system that has incarcerated more black men today than those who were enslaved in 1850 and still carries disproportionate crack-cocaine laws that overwhelming target poor blacks.

It’s not particularly surprising that a man who preemptively follows and then kills an unarmed young man receives impunity in a country that preemptively invaded Iraq and continues to further imperialistic foreign policies – invade, shoot first, ask questions later.

Your op-ed accuses the media of inventing the “issue.”  Yet, the media’s coverage of New York stop-and-frisk programs that disproportionately target Latinos and blacks, the CIA’s infiltration of Muslim communities and Arizona’s SB-1070’s targeting of Latinos, has been limited at best.  These were perfect opportunities for the media to incite racial unrest.  Americans should be furious about these racist tactics.  Scapegoating the media fails to recognize the underlying cause for the death of an unarmed, young man and undermines genuine grievances that stem from African Americans having been the victims of racism for much too long.  Too many people have been harassed, pulled over, profiled and searched for doing little else than not being white.   The underlying message of this editorial is that no one should be upset and that anger would be best directed to journalists, rather than our penal system.  Reducing public demonstrations to rioting is a stark misrepresentation of a warranted public outcry that has erupted from years of oppression.  Your op-ed ignores a history of injustice – slavery, Jim Crow Laws, Tuskegee Experiments, stop and frisk programs, dismisses institutionalized racism and discrimination, and overlooks a long list of young black men – Ramarley Graham, Shawn Bell, Kendrec McDade, Oscar Grant – killed with impunity.

The nation wonders why Mr. Martin could not Stand his Ground and why a man may defend himself from a person that he followed and initiated an altercation with.  The unsettling fact remains in 2013 that too many Americans genuinely fear black people.

This racism is embedded in the legislative, economic, cultural and political fabric of our institutions. It is institutionalized. It is both subversive and explicitly blatant.  This irrational fear – the fear of the unknown, the fear of the different – rationalizes the need to defend oneself from that which is the source of our fear – the black man.

Let us not forget that Mr. Zimmerman was only tried for the death of Trayvon Martin after the people took to the streets and their social media feeds.  Before this, the judicial system so praised by Mr. Fahimuddin, saw no crime in the death of a young, black man.  The verdict is, as CSUEB Professor of Ethnic Studies, Dr. Nicolas Bayham has described, “a new form of racial lynching.”  Zimmerman’s innocence is, in effect, a sentence of Trayvon Martin – guilty of being black.

The Diversity Center recognizes that race is a sensitive and often contentious issue.  On July 18, 2013 the Diversity Center hosted a dialogue to provide a safe environment for the campus community to share thoughts, feelings, and opinions about the State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman verdict.

This past op-ed only accentuates the need for further dialogue.  The Diversity Center intends to continue this conversation, and encourages the campus community to join us as we help celebrate diversity and foster a movement committed to social justice and change.  May we finally begin to talk about race; may Trayvon Martin’s death not be in vain; may we reflect, grow and become more humane and empathetic people.