I made the above meme a couple of weeks ago, when George Zimmerman’s trial was beginning but decided not to post it because I don’t believe in vigilante justice, even in cases where there will be no other kind. George Zimmerman killed an unarmed young man after getting out of his car to chase him simply for walking through a white neighborhood while wearing a hoodie. He actively pursued a fellow human being against the advice of law enforcement and ended an alleged fist fight by pulling out a gun he kept intentionally to use against people in his neighborhood and killed someone who was unarmed. This makes George Zimmerman, in my opinion, a murderer. But he deserved a fair trail. The bigger concern is that he didn’t get one.
A fair trial would have involved a prosecution team with a plan, witnesses who had been vetted, and a jury of his actual peers (six gun-literate white ladies might be someone’s peers, but certainly not George Zimmerman’s, nor Trayvon Martin’s). Anger at George Zimmerman’s benefiting from the system that has been in place since before any of us were born is a red herring. He had his day in a court predisposed to disregard the dead body of a young black male and he won. The only justice left to him is what kind of life he’ll be able to lead henceforth, from the employment he’s able to get to the people who choose to socialize with him.
The system that allowed a murderer to go free is a different story. It is not just broken, it never worked for people of color to begin with. And it’s getting worse. From the Stop and Frisk program here in New York City to the Floridian mother who was given 20 years for firing warning shots on her own goddamn property to the people who proudly rally around Paula Deen, racism in America is flourishing.
George Zimmerman benefited from a system that I benefit from and maybe you do as well: white privilege. If this is news to you, you are undoubtedly white. It affects everything from whether or not a salesperson follows you suspiciously at Old Navy to an infinite series of systematic benefits that give you everything you have going back to your first American ancestor.
When that we let injustice occur without questioning and fighting the system that allowed it, we tell the people in charge that some people’s rights are worth less than others and we all lose. This is not hyperbole; it’s literally happening all over the country. Right now there are people in office taking away rights that have been in place for decades. I can’t imagine a more regressive or reactive time in American history.
Women and minorities are painfully complicit in our own persecution. There are women fighting against abortion rights and there is a black justice in the highest court of the land who won’t even stand up for minority voting rights. There are gay Republicans who don’t want legalized gay marriage.Unfortunately, it’s still a difficult concept for many that there is no such thing as “special interest groups” when it comes to civil rights. If even one person is vulnerable to systematic injustice, none of us are safe.