Barack Obama declared last year, that “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” Martin, a boy who was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in February 2012. This statement by America’s first black president was touching. A year later, the murderer of the young 17-year-old African-American high school student, a man named George Zimmerman, born to a White father and a Hispanic mother, was acquitted in Florida. While the legitimacy of the verdict pronounced by a popular jury, which was strangely composed of six women — five White and one Hispanic — was not contested, the acquittal has nonetheless raised numerous questions, as the trial was experienced more as a X-ray of today’s America than as a judicial procedure.
The trial was a reminder that the idea that a post-racial society had seen the light of day overnight following Barack Obama’s election was a myth. However, we tend to take refuge in these illusions. Racism no longer figures as a socially acceptable reason to justify discriminatory practices. The zeal with which the accusations refused to address the possibility of Trayvon Martin being racially profiled is such an example.
A recently released book, “The New Jim Crow”, which discusses laws enforced until the 1960’s that discriminated against African-Americans, underlines it: America replaced the caste system with the mass control of African-Americans, using the bias of the judicial and prison system. While they only represent 12 percent of the population, 42 percent of those sentenced to death are African-American.
It is not surprising that George Zimmerman’s acquittal was experienced as new discrimination. It is an addition to two Supreme Court decisions that threaten the black community: one weakening the principle of affirmative action in universities; the other repealing a fundamental clause in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which required states that had practiced racial segregation to submit any modifications to their voting procedures to Washington for review.
The other major lesson learned from this verdict concerns self-defense. The acquittal confirms the right to use one’s firearm if one feels the threat of death or bodily harm, a principle anchored in the Stand Your Ground law that is in force in Florida, along with twenty other states. The notion remains vague, and the state has turned into a promoter of cowboy behavior that is not worthy of a modern, democratic society. But it attests to the reigning power of the National Rifle Association, the gun lobby.