The Zimmerman acquittal proved what we've all known for some time now, and what's been true since the 16th century. There are two justice systems in America -- one for white people and people of privilege, and one for everyone else. The state of Florida made this quite obvious while acquitting George Zimmerman, but sentencing Florida woman Marissa Alexander to 20 years in prison last year for firing a warning shot into the wall while being threatened by her abusive husband.
In most murder trials, the guilt or innocence of the defendant rests upon whether or not the prosecution can prove that the defendant indeed killed the victim. Zimmerman openly admitted to killing a 17-year-old boy (and later said on national television that he felt killing Trayvon Martin was "God's plan"). What was instead required by the prosecution was to prove, beyond all doubt, that Zimmerman acted with malicious intent when shooting Trayvon Martin. In most states, the burden of proof for self-defense rests on the defendant -- they have to make their case that the killing was a justified act of self-defense. But in the state of Florida, the burden of proof rests on the prosecutor to prove that the defendant did NOT act in self-defense, which is damn near impossible to do when the only account of what happened comes from the killer. This effectively means that anyone in Florida can start a fight, murder the other guy when losing the fight, and claim self-defense and get away since the person they killed can't give their side of the story. But the fact remains that Zimmerman ignored advice from law enforcement the night he stalked and murdered Trayvon.
Police: Are you following him?
Police: OK, we don't need you to do that.
In Florida, the definition of stalking is found in code 784.048.
784.048 Stalking; definitions; penalties.--
(1) As used in this section, the term:
(a) "Harass" means to engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes substantial emotional distress to that person and serves no legitimate purpose.
(b) "Course of conduct" means a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time, however short, which evidences a continuity of purpose.
Zimmerman's life was not in any danger when he willfully left his car while armed with a pistol, to follow an unarmed 17-year-old. While he alleges he fired his pistol once in self-defense after a fight with Trayvon, there was no trace of Martin's DNA found on George Zimmerman, and there was no trace of Zimmerman's DNA found on Martin. What with all the lacerations to Zimmerman's head and a broken nose, one would think there would have been at least a hint of a DNA exchange. The only rational explanation for how George Zimmerman was able to claim self-defense and get off scot-free while Marissa Alexander, who was in actual physical danger, was sentenced to 20 years, is that Zimmerman's father is a retired judge. Zimmerman had privilege on his side. Alexander did not. But the Martin/Zimmerman case is just one example of our two-sided justice system.
When I spoke with Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi in June, he told me about interviewing the owners of a small, family-owned bank in Chinatown, NYC, named Abacus Federal Savings Bank -- the only bank that has been charged with fraud since the financial crisis. Abacus was one of many banks that sold loans to Fannie Mae, then re-packaged them and sold them again to make money on interest while Fannie Mae bundled the mortgage loans into securities, which were rated AAA by ratings agencies and then sold on the market to investors. It was an unquestionable case of fraud, but other major banks that did it on a massive scale have escaped punishment, while the owners of Abacus and 19 former employees were all indicted and face up to 25 years in prison.
"This is how small you have to be to be prosecuted in the new America. You've gotta be a six-story building in Chinatown running a mom-and-pop bank, otherwise you can't be indicted," Taibbi said.
The biggest indicator of America's racist justice system can be found by looking at Lauryn Hill, Ja Rule, Wesley Snipes, and Jeff Immelt. Lauryn Hill, a mother of six, just started her 3-month prison sentence for dodging $1.8 million in taxes. Actor Wesley Snipes was sentenced to 3 years in federal prison for dodging $40 million in taxes. Rapper Ja Rule was sentenced to 4 years in prison for 5 years of unpaid taxes on roughly $3 million in income. But Jeffrey Immelt, CEO and chairman of General Electric, is in charge of a company that paid $0 in federal taxes in 2010 despite making more than $14 billion in profit, paying just an average 1.8% federal tax rate from 2002 to 2012. Despite GE's dodging billions more in taxes than all of the aforementioned black entertainers combined, Immelt is a free man. I confronted Immelt late last week about this discrepancy while he was speaking to the University of Wisconsin board of regents, and I was arrested for merely bringing up the topic in a civil manner (since we're both white, my friend and I were ticketed and let go less than an hour after being handcuffed).
It's a slap in the face to justice when black tax dodgers are jailed while white tax dodgers are given presidential appointments. It's an even bigger slap in the face when a grown man with a gun stalks and kills an unarmed 17-year-old and gets off claiming self-defense, while a black woman gets 20 years for firing shots into a wall in trying to stop her husband from hitting her. And it's a huge slap in the face when the nation's highest court uses the false argument that racism is gone to deliberately strip away 50 years of established voting protections for historically disenfranchised groups. The sooner we acknowledge that the current justice system is a farce and only works for the privileged, the sooner we'll be able to change it for the better.