I have been angry for days. For those of you who follow me on Twitter or know me personally, this comes as no surprise. But this has not been my usual anger––the daily anger that is generally bubbling under the surface as a result of reading the news, reading comments by trolls, witnessing and experiencing microaggressions, battling internet racists, etc.––but a tight wire in my heart that has been clanging since the verdict was read, since 5 white and 1 Hispanic woman in Florida found George Zimmerman not guilty after he stalked and murdered a boy of seventeen.
I watched every second of the trial. I seethed at Don West. I cringed at the 911 tapes. I cheered for Rachel Jeantel. And the whole time I felt my hope struggling with my pessimism, heard myself say “These bastards will probably let him walk,” while being conscious that I was saying this in an effort not to get my hopes too high. But they were high. Even in the face of grossly unjust convictions like Marissa Alexander’s, I thought, “There’s just no way. They can’t. Not this time.”
But they did. They let him walk, and are even giving him the gun back, the one he used to take the life of an innocent black boy. A bloody souvenir.
In the days since, I have engaged in vicious debates, some with people I formerly respected. One in particular stands out in my mind: a white man told me that we shouldn’t be angry at the jury or vilify them: we should be angry at the laws that “forced their hand” to acquit. Out of all the debates I’ve had, this is the one that irks me the most.
Yes, the laws need to be changed. Stand Your Ground needs to be smashed. But you know what else needs to be smashed? The racist ideologies that cling to the hearts of white Americans, proven by the fact that Don West could enter a trial with the strategy of “Scare the white ladies with tales of a big bad black thug” and succeed; proven by the fact that Trayvon Martin, in death, was on trial for his own murder; proven by the fact that white Zimmerman defenders have said over and over that Trayvon should have identified himself (Freedom Papers?); proven by the fact that despite our teaching our children to run away from suspicious adults who might mean them harm, Trayvon Martin was somehow wrong wrong wrong for trying to protect his own life.
During the trial, there was speculation that the jury would convict because all of them were mothers. Although white, it was said, these women have children of their own and would see through Zimmerman’s elaborate circus of lies in the pursuit of justice for a child. Those speculations were wrong. I have quoted a poem by Ai many times in my ongoing fight for equality, and I’ll do so again here:
“what can I say, except that I’ve heard
the poor have no children, just small people”
This is how these jurors—and, indeed, much of White America—see black Americans. How could this jury of 6 non-black women see Trayvon Martin as a child, when to their eyes he was a man? And not just a man: a black man. A dangerous man. A threat. A pestilence. A thug.
Last night I listened to Juror B37 during her CNN interview, her face in shadow, while she said “them” and “they” and “sorry” and “Georgie.” I listened to her implications of Rachel Jeantel’s inferiority and her disgraceful deference for George Zimmerman. And I wanted to scream. Cry. Break things. I wanted to burn the world down. She essentially admitted that he committed manslaughter, but that “his heart was in the right place.” In these words I heard her complicity with the murder of black children in Florida and everywhere. However terrible Zimmerman’s actions, his heart was in the right place. Why? Because a black child is dead. And how could that be wrong?
This is what we’re up against. By we I mean everyone who believes that justice was not carried out; who believes that black children matter; who believes black lives matter; who believes as long as people like Juror B37 exist, our work is not done.
There are many problems with this case, with Florida, with the United States, with this world that puts blackness on par with ugliness, danger, and ignorance. But of those problems, which one glares at me, twanging the wire in my heart? Whiteness. Whiteness and its lack of empathy, its refusal to take responsibility, its ego. Its inability to see a black boy as a black boy, to equate that black boy and his marijuana with your own white son and the pot you know is in his backpack. Whiteness and its refusal to sit down, shut up, listen, help. Whiteness and its blindness; its stuffy, raging defenses and finger-pointing. Whiteness and those—like B37—who wield it as a shield, then, behind that shield, attempt to write books and profit off a death that you blocked justice for.
We shouldn’t be angry at the jury? I am angry. I am one white woman looking at another white woman, who—along with her peers—saw a black child’s death laid out before her and chose to turn her back. I am not turning my back. Not on Trayvon. Not on Michael Griffith. Not on Marissa Alexander. Not on Jordan Davis. Not on Emmett Till. I empathize. I organize. I’m angry.