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Janet Langhart Cohen

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Trayvon: Justice or Just Us?

Posted: 05/02/2012 10:58 am

When George Zimmerman (now free on bail and enriched in excess of $200,000 by anonymous donors) was finally arrested and charged with the murder of Trayvon Martin, the Martin family and their supporters were relieved and grateful. The rusty wheels of justice were, at last, starting to turn. One distinguished columnist, who had been waiting to exhale, suggested that whatever the outcome of a trial -- or its preemption by a "stand your ground" defense -- justice will have been served.

Au contraire.

For much of America's history, black people have been told to wait. Wait for what? For white people's humanity to evolve?

We might as well be waiting for Godot. The manner in which the Sanford, Florida police handled Trayvon's murder is evidence that we have yet to arrive in the promised land of equal treatment under the law. The Sanford police chief, who acted with indifference or incompetence, was granted a temporary suspension with pay. Trayvon is in a grave. The police chief is on vacation.

The cases of police misconduct towards, and disregard for, blacks that have resulted in suspensions with pay are too many to mention. Only those suffering from a severe case of selective amnesia can forget seeing Rodney King reeling under the savage beating by the Los Angeles police in 1991. In determining whether the police had used excessive force, what did the nearly all white jury in Simi Valley trust -- the video tapes or their lying eyes?

Is there any doubt that if Trayvon had stalked and killed a white person, he would have been immediately arrested and charged with murder? Stand your ground be damned! Only his status as a teenager might have saved him from a seat in the electric chair.

The circumstances surrounding the Martin case have received enormous -- and for some, "too much," media attention. One contributor to the FOX network declared that if Trayvon had been murdered by a black man, it would have been a non-story.

Precisely! Black on black violence. Ho hum, just another day in the ghetto and a problem we don't have to deal with. FOX's man revealed what is at the heart of this case -- the invidious persistence of racism. Society has been conditioned to conclude that black people are predisposed to engage in criminal conduct and pose an inherent threat to all. We have become disposable. Our laws have been radicalized and our people branded and criminalized. The color of our skin has become a prison from which we are not allowed to escape.

Trayvon's fate continues to be compared to that of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy from Chicago who was brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955. Much has changed in the intervening 57 years, but too much remains the same. Emmett was murdered for whistling at a white woman. Trayvon was allegedly murdered for walking while black and wearing a hoodie.

Emmett received a trial in a kangaroo court. His killers, after being quickly acquitted by an all white jury, confessed to the crime and laughed how they got away with it. Look Magazine paid them $4,000 for their sordid story. There's little doubt that the tabloids and magazines are hovering over Zimmerman with cash in hand.

Emmett's fate was not the exception for black victims of violence, just the rule.

Justice in this case, or the others that are sure to follow, will never be achieved until white society stops ignoring the presence of the elephant that has been sitting in our living rooms for the past three hundred years -- the persistence of race-based laws and cultural conditioning that dictate what black people can wear, when we can whistle, where we can walk, and who we can be.

Lawyers like to quip that any connection between law and justice is purely coincidental. If true, then Trayvon, like Emmett, may well receive a trail, but no justice.

 
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