03/29/2012 01:11 pm ET Updated May 29, 2012

Young Black Philosophers Respond to the Trayvon Martin Case

Very few of the facts in the case of Trayvon Martin's death are in dispute. On February 26, 2012, 17-year-old honor student Martin was visiting his father in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. Martin left his father's home in order to buy candy at a nearby 7-11. As he walked back home, neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman patrolled the area in his van with a loaded gun, as he often did. Zimmerman called 911 and reported a "suspicious" person -- Martin, who according to Zimmerman, was "walking around" and "looking about." The police dispatcher advised Zimmerman that police would arrive to investigate Martin who by now was a "suspect" (although the only "crimes" he ever committed were those of "walking around" and "looking about"). What appears to have aroused Zimmerman's suspicion is the fact that Trayvon Martin was a young Black man (in fact, still a youth, at just 17 years of age). Young Black men, as Zimmerman's neighbors attest, were a special source of anxiety and fascination for him.

Zimmerman took it upon himself to pursue Martin, ignoring the instructions of the police dispatcher and complaining that "these assholes always get away." New evidence from the testimony of Martin's girlfriend confirms that Martin ran for his life, afraid of the strange man who was following him. Moments later, neighbors watched and listened in horror as Martin's cries for help were silenced by a shot to the chest from Zimmerman's gun.

Almost a full month later, Zimmerman walks free. He has not spent a moment in jail in connection with this killing, and the Sanford Police Department refuses to prosecute him, claiming that he has committed no crime under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which licenses killing in the case of perceived mortal danger, even where the killer does not attempt to retreat. Since Zimmerman claims that he feared for his life, then, the state of Florida sanctions his killing of a youth whom he outweighed by over one hundred pounds, and who had no weapon on his person -- only a bottle of ice tea, a bag of Skittles and a (now curiously missing) cell phone.

Stand Your Ground is not just a bad law, an irresponsible law, or perhaps even the absence or erasure of law, insofar as it gives armed wannabes the right to live out their twisted fantasies of vigilantism and act as judge, jury, and executioner. In the context of a racist society that deems Blackness itself a cause for suspicion and considers mere proximity to a Black man good reason to fear for one's life, it is an inherently racist law. It is modern-day lynch law, a point ably expressed in the protest sign that reads "2012 Shouldn't Feel Like 1812."

One can scarcely imagine a case in which the facts are reversed. Is there anyone who actually believes that if Zimmerman were Black, and Martin were non-Black, then a Black man who had pursued and killed his unarmed victim would not immediately be taken into custody by Sanford police, simply because he claimed self-defense and police were inclined to take him at his word? In the United States, it is not even a matter of Blacks being presumed guilty until proven innocent. Blacks are never innocent. They are always ineluctably guilty of one unforgivable crime -- that of existing while Black. This is why no reasonable person can imagine a Black killer who the police presume to be an innocent victim. It is also why Martin's "walking around" and "looking about" was suspicious walking and suspicious looking. And it is why Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee believes Martin did something wrong that contributed to his own death. Lee's callous statement that if Martin had the opportunity to relive February 26th then "he'd probably do things differently" can be seen in its bizarre cruelty and stupidity when we reflect upon the nature of Trayvon Martin's only "crime" that day.

The Society of Young Black Philosophers (SYBP) calls upon Florida and other states with Stand Your Ground laws to repeal these dangerous, irresponsible, and racist laws. We also call for a full and thorough investigation of the killing of Trayvon Martin as well as an investigation of the Sanford Police Department. We call for justice for Trayvon Martin and his grieving friends and family. The members of the SYBP, who include college students, graduate students, and university professors, know all too well the lesson that Martin's death highlights: that Black people in this country may expect to be judged for the color of their skin, and all too rarely for the content of their character. It is this atmosphere of racist fear and hatred that permits "tough on crime" laws like Stand Your Ground to exist and to be applied in a way that condones the killing of Black children. The repeal of Stand Your Ground would be one move towards chipping away at the considerable state sanction of anti-Black racism and violence.

In Solidarity,
The Society of Young Black Philosophers