Reasonable Courses of Action for Those Who Might Not Come Home Alive.

“This isn’t a court of justice, son. This is a court of law.” – Billy Bragg

When a jury of six people found George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, I found myself utterly unable to respond to the verdict in real time. For those who have spent the past couple of months hiding in a cave with their eyes closed and ears plugged, George Zimmerman was a neighborhood watchman in Florida. Trayvon Martin was a teenage pedestrian who passed through the fiefdom over which Zimmerman stood vigilant against all the “punks” and “assholes” with his concealed 9mm pistol. Martin carried only Skittles and iced tea that he had bought from the store. Within seconds of spotting Martin, Zimmerman called 911 to report that he had seen Martin, in his neighborhood, doing nothing in particular. Although the dispatcher advised caution and restraint, Zimmerman lamented (in the recording of the 911 call) about how “assholes” and “punks” like Martin “always get away” and he decided to pursue. Zimmerman then followed Martin until Martin physically confronted the stranger who was following him for no apparent reason. In response to the nominal danger that he himself provoked, Zimmerman shot Martin dead.

I found myself unable to muster outrage because, frankly, I wasn’t surprised at the outcome. I also found myself unable to have any sort of conversation with anybody about it because those who either lamented or celebrated the verdict suffered from the same core delusion: that Court-With-a-Capital-C is a place for justice to happen.

Anyone who has spent one minute in an actual courtroom understands that a court is a machine; it has moving parts that fulfill their functions within predictable degrees of verve, skill, and enthusiasm. The list of possible outcomes for a case is limited, as are the possible options that the machine’s players can choose from prior to the case’s final outcome. And when the courtroom deputies radio to the basement to send their “bodies” (in-custody defendants) up to a courtroom for their court appearances, we receive a crude reminder of what this machine processes; it processes human beings. At no point during this process will the victims get their loved ones back, nor will this process heal any wounds or scars. Sometimes property is recovered, but more likely it will be repaid pennies on the dollar through the pittance that the defendant earns for his prison labor. At no point along this route does an accused receive the job training, addiction counseling, and/or long-term psychotherapy that would prevent a huge majority of all crime if they were freely available. At what point does anyone expect justice to squish through the sausage funnel at the end of this process?

Every final outcome in a criminal case represents an outcome that the system was designed to produce. Many years of lobbying by the firearms industry and self-defense enthusiasts produced Florida’s self-defense laws. These laws require no retreat and make no issue of who first instigated the violent encounter or why he did so. All a person has to do is claim that he feared for his life and kill the only other witness to the contrary. And when a person does this, faces trial on national television, and walks out the door afterward, the system works exactly the way that it was designed to.

Now, I have made no mention thus far of the races of either Zimmerman or Martin. The system flatters itself fair and impartial because–on paper–the race if the individuals involved should not matter. But if race does not matter, why was 71-year-old Trevor Dooley (African American) denied an acquittal when he claimed that he shot a man thirty years younger, four inches taller, eighty pounds heavier, and did so in self defense?  Why is a black defendant 354 times more likely to be convicted of murder than a white defendant in cases alleging “self-defense?”  A law that claims to be race neutral while producing racial injustice is, regardless of its intent, a racist law. The courts that enforce racist laws produce racist results.

The courts in Florida and elsewhere enforce laws that make it dangerous for young black males to walk home from the store and dare to defend themselves against a stranger who decides within seconds that they are “assholes” and “punks.” This is not justice, but justice is not what these machines produce.

The solution for law abiding citizens who want to come home safely from the store is to stop relying on courts to produce justice. For the past four weeks, a group of students calling themselves the Dream Defenders have been staging a sit-in protest at governor Rick Scott’s office seeking redress for the laws that allowed Zimmerman to legally kill Trayvon Martin; they are trying to stop the gears of the machine with their bodies. In response, Florida house speaker Will Weatherford has announced his intention to hold hearings on Florida’s self-defense laws. The Dream Defenders clearly understand that justice is something that must be sought outside the courtroom.

Please don’t think of this as a tardy Trayvon Martin piece; I prefer to think of this post as a timely piece in support of those actively resisting the systemic racism of our court system as though their lives depend on it.

Their lives do depend on it.

Respectfully Submitted,

Norm DeGuerre

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One comment on “Reasonable Courses of Action for Those Who Might Not Come Home Alive.

  1. themodernidiot says:

    I’ve had the same problem. I’m not able to put into words what I feel about it. I support Zimmerman’s right to defend himself against someone bashing his head against the sidewalk, but i don’t agree shooting Trayvon was justified. I mean, a simple white flag would have handled the situation just fine. “Hey man, truce. I’m sorry I mistook you for a criminal.” In that close space, surely those words could be heard.

    But it brings to light the human weakness. Human fear is so fueled by racism, media portrayal, idiocy on the part of people to perpetuate their own group’s stereotypes. I mean, why did Trayvon not just say, “Here’s my Skittles and iced tea. I live right over there”?. Clearly Zimmerman would have been in a uniform, and so it seems Martin could have assumed that he was only trying to do his job. Whether he was doing it badly or not, it seems there were many points in the confrontation where calm and disclosure could have prevailed.

    And I saw bits and pieces of CNN’s convos with the jurors, who frankly seemed pretty unable to think their way out of a paper bag. They listened and made their decisions with prejudice. I know each side wants the jury to be prejudice to their cause, but I also thought the selection process was supposed to help balance a jury box. Admittedly I am not a student of the law, and Florida justice hasn’t moved much in the last 150 years, but at least they don’t have to be so overt about it.

    I have so much admiration for what you do, in a system that is indeed stacked against people. I wouldn’t last two minutes without a bushel of Xanax to keep me from rushing the bench in rage.

    I suppose the reality is that the Martin’s of this country must remain martyrs until we “get it” and start demanding a return to the principles of fairness.

    I don’t know how that will happen, until then I just sigh and shake my head in wonder at the stupidity of it all.

    Thank you for this post. It iss a bit of sanity in this overexposed tragedy.

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