Dr. Martin Luther King Junior dared to dream that his children could live in a nation where an individual may be judged by “the content of their character, and not by the colour of their skin”. Yet, almost half a century on, this dream is being pervaded by a nightmare where avarice and deception suffocate an egalitarian future.
On 26 February 2012, a self-appointed neighbourhood watch Captain of a gated community in Sanford, Florida, decided to follow a teenager for looking vaguely suspicious. This young man was walking back to his father’s girlfriend’s house, after buying some skittles and ice tea from a local petrol station. The teenager was shot dead that night. On July 13th 2013, a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges, after reaching the benighted conclusion that Zimmerman’s defence was plausible. To begin to comprehend why Zimmerman did what he did, we need to look deeply into the decadence of society, and how this played a significant role in producing such an abominable act. Monsters aren’t created out of thin air, they are socially conditioned.
In the wake of the largest recession of modern times, house prices drastically fell in the gated community named the Retreat at Twin Lakes. In conjunction with the racial stratification of America, this unearthed a large demographic change. Step by step, what ensued was a large increase in thefts, burglaries and violent crimes, which in-turn, contributed to the construction of an environment that left locals feeling vulnerable. Local resident, Frank Taaffe, describes the interracial instability as ‘a perfect storm’. Taaffe suggests that Zimmerman was merely reacting with pent-up ‘anger issues’ because he was ‘mad as hell’. Zimmerman ‘wasn’t going to take it anymore’. Through the cynical divide-and-conquer tactics of America’s systematic gentrification, ignorance created fear and incited hatred. Accordingly, Zimmerman’s institutionalised dysfunctionality induced a megalomaniacal batman-like quest to clean up the streets of Twin Lakes.
The ‘Stand Your Ground’ law which exists in Florida, and 23 other states, may at face value appear to be an effective step towards taking the power from violent criminals. But in reality, this law has empowered the gun-wielding vigilantes of America, and protected those who have murdered in the name of self-defence. In cases like Zimmerman’s, the defendant merely has to produce a plausible argument of self-defence to escape criminal charges. After the trial, Juror B-29 told ABC News that ‘for myself, he’s guilty, but as the law was read to me, if you have no proof that he killed him intentionally, you can’t say he’s guilty’.
An attorney for the Martin family, and a Sanford native, had this to say about the impact of Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law: “If history has shown me anything, they are not going to do anything”. Substantially, these comments were made before the trial had even begun. Natalie Jackson’s unadorned honesty characterizes the reality of the situation in America. Unless there is indisputable evidence that self-defence is implausible, there will be no criminal charges brought against the defendant. Not under any circumstances. The consequences of this are insurmountable.
Furthermore, distrust has been compounded by evidence of police corruption. One of the first officers on the scene was initially warned by a witness that they had heard Martin cry for help. In reaction to this, the officer explained that it couldn’t have been Martin: it must have been Zimmerman; the megalomaniac that had hunted and chased him with a gun, bearing an unyielding, psychopathic desire to prevent ‘these assholes’ from ‘getting away’. This ‘asshole’ was a 17 year-old high-school student, who had risked his life when he was 9 years old to save his father from a burning building. A young man who Zimmerman, in a reconstruction video for the trial, had remembered slamming his head repeatedly on the hard concrete, and reaching for his gun after shouting ‘your gonna die tonight motherfucker’. This remorseless portrayal of Trayvon Martin encompasses the desperate defence of one George Zimmerman.
The not-guilty verdict has reinforced institutionalised racism at the base of American culture. Moreover, Zimmerman’s acquittal lends power to the Alex Jones’s of this world: the gun-toting conservatives who believe that this ‘Stand Your Ground’ law is just a reflection of a God-given human right to protect and serve, regardless of the consequences. Significantly, this is firstly a victory for the corporations who reap huge profits from the gun industry, and secondly, it is a great loss for every man, woman and child who believe in the foundation of justice and equality. For Dr. King’s dream to be realised, we the people must take a stand for what is right. In the immortal words of Gil Scott-Heron, “we must work for peace”; as Zimmerman’s freedom affirms that many are still willing to live in a state of institutionalised ignorance whilst fighting for segmentation and injustice.