THE TRUTH CLINIC by James W. Breedlove
Death came quite suddenly and violently to 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in the early evening of Feb. 26, 2012.
On April 11, 2012, Florida State Attorney Angela Corey charged neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman with murder. A jury of six women heard testimony from more than 50 witnesses during the five-week trial that culminated in an acquittal on July 13, 2013.
Was justice served? First, we must understand the nuance of justice perception and justice reality. What is justice?
In America, Lady Justice is the personification of justice depicting it through three symbols: a sword symbolizing the court’s authority and power; a human scale weighing, using a rational process, the competing claims of plaintiff and defendant to arrive at a verdict; and a blindfold indicating that justice is rendered fairly without passion or prejudice.
Justice is often used interchangeably with the word “fairness.” Fairness is a centerpiece of our moral compass. In any situation in life, be it in a courtroom, at the workplace or waiting in line at a local store, we want to be treated fairly. We feel we deserve equal and impartial treatment regardless of our skin color, religion, sexual orientation or age.
Of course, American history is littered with examples of injustice and unfairness to some citizens. One such example would be the era of slavery in the U.S. Black people have never been afforded the same rights as white people, and it took many years for the government to theoretically recognize black people as equal to whites.
The Trayvon Martin case is yet another example that begs the question of what should be done when an injustice is committed. Justice fairness remains an elusive topic because people often disagree over what they deserve and whether they’re receiving it. In such disagreements, we want reasonable and impartial decisions made. We want blind justice. And when people feel that they aren’t getting it, then society may become unstable. As proof, recall the civil rights marches, the occurrences of Watts type riots, and the spontaneous protests following the Trayvon Martin verdict.
But, the Zimmerman trial was bigger than George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin. At stake were the gun laws not only in Florida but also in states all across America. The years of lobbying and millions of dollars that special interest groups such as the NRA have invested in “second amendment” legislation was too powerful a force even for Lady Justice. This is just another of the many times that she peeks under the blindfold of impartiality to influence the balance of the scales. This is the reality of justice versus the perception of justice.
Yahoo Columnist Shawn James wrote:
“A life was lost. A life was forever altered by deciding to pull the trigger. Mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers have wept for the loss of a loved one and wept for the freedom of a loved one. These emotions are real, and should not be disregarded as we are human with feelings and culture that dictate how we react to these extreme situations. But all this emotion is still not bigger than the ‘law,’ and the verdict in this case, right or wrong in the public’s eyes, was just another justification in a long history of a state that protects its gun owners and arm bearers at all costs.”
Trayvon Martin’s name prior to Feb. 25, 2012 was not a household word; he was not a community leader or a mentor of his peers. But in death, Trayvon has achieved a renown that in his short 17 years was beyond any of his expectations. He is now famous. His name is instantly recognized in communities and households across the nation, even worldwide.
Trayvon has paid a huge price for the notoriety that he has achieved in death. We can only imagine the jolting nightmares that will haunt his mother, father, friends and family as they search for answers on why God chose Trayvon for this moment in history.
Based on statements that Trayvon’s father and mother made following the verdict we must assume that they would want those that mourn his passing to understand that while God’s purpose may be a mystery it is not to be questioned.
Father Tracy Martin stated:
“Even though I am broken hearted my faith is unshattered.”
Mother Sybrina Fulton said,:
“Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, GOD is still in control.”
So, while we continue our quest to make our perceived justice coincide with the reality of justice we also continue to bury our Trayvon Martins. We shake our heads in disbelief, offer our condolences, march in protest and hold endless conferences and symposiums on what should be done. Granted there is still systemic racism that impacts and undermines the social, economic and civil justice of blacks. Justice is not always served fairly.
As The Guardian’s Gary Young writes:
“…what ground is a young black man entitled to and on what grounds may he defend himself? What version of events is there for that night in which Martin gets away with his life? Or is it open season on black boys after dark?”
Several years ago following the fatal shooting of superstar Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor, CNN felt obliged to produce a one hour special, Violence In America—Black Men In Crisis, using Sean’s murder as the platform from which to regurgitate the heart wrenching and frightening black murder statistics accumulating across America. Their conclusion then is just as potent today:
If you are a young black male in America less than 25 years of age you are 15 times more likely to be murdered than a white male of similar age.
Justice requires perpetual diligence.
James W. Breedlove is a former president of the Fort Wayne Branch of the NAACP. Comments or opinions may be sent to the writer at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the July 24 print edition.