“eye for an eye makes the whole world blind…”
Mahatma Gandhi famously uttered these words in reflection when facing and challenging injustice. I heed these words as the fault in only seeking short term solutions in a deeply systematic problem that needs long-term solutions for sustainability.
Gandhi’s words never rang truer for me after hearing the verdict on the George Zimmerman trial and witnessing the outcry(and support) of the verdict. I found myself asking: Is this why Justice is blind in America? Are so we blinded by structural violence that true justice is obstructed from us all? What if Justice is blind; not by the blindfold of subjectivity but by prejudice….
How I viewed the outcome of the Zimmerman trail was that all of us, have suffered and will continue to suffer when Justice is blinded unfairly; leaving us all to only suffer equally.
At our weekly staff meeting at WEAP, it was only natural that we all spoke on our personal reflections in the process and verdict of the Zimmerman case. We all had our opinions, and I want to express my sentiments as I further contemplated this issue.
Treyvon Martin’s death and the subsequent trail of George Zimmerman isn’t simply a reflection of the complications in our justice system. I think it is a bigger reflection on how our society at large (mis)represent struggles that still goes on today in the United States.
With that said, I want to explain my thoughts by addressing the following points:
・How did the “Stand Your Ground” law affect the outcome of this case
・What does George Zimmerman’s trail and murder of Treyvon Martin say about hate crimes, justifiable use of force, and gun control in the United States.
・How struggles are ONGOING and relevant to us all.
Let me start with the first point: How did Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law affect the outcome of this case?
In my opinion, in a defense against a murder charge, the law was used in the defense’s favor. It was a good defense under their narrative that it was Martin who instigated the fight between the two–though I find fault in Zimmerman himself for following this young man despite orders from 911 dispatchers to NOT follow Martin.
To briefly summarize, this “Stand Your Ground” law outlines what conditions will allow someone to use deadly force to defend themselves.
The Florida law seems to apply to Zimmerman & his defense attorney used it in his advantage in a state that has very loose gun control. He and Martin got into an altercation–which the defense argues was instigated by Martin– and as a result, Zimmerman “justifiably” shot his “attacker.”
But would this be justifiable? There is a lot that can be said about the unequal use of force and unfortunately, Martin isn’t alive to tell his side of this tragedy. Some portray this as a man who became a vigilante. He thought that Treyvon was “suspicious;” he then follows this young man while being advised by 911 dispatcher to stand down. As a result, there is an altercation and a subsequent death of Treyvon Martin. Again, the defense for George Zimmerman argued that it was Treyvon Martin who initiated the altercation between himself and Zimmerman (The defense’s arguments are articulated here: CBS News Reporting on Zimmerman Defense).
What is being paralleled to this incident is the case of Marissa Alexander of Florida. In Marissa’s case, she did NOT kill or physically shoot her perceived threat–an ex-husband who was threatening her at her doorsteps. She was ultimately charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced with the maximum sentence this charge carries: a hefty 20 year sentence. Though she pleaded not guilty due to the very “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, the courts ruled that “Stand Your Ground” law did not apply to Marissa for she fired shots into the air as warning shots against her ex-husband and not to avoid any imminent threat to her life. Additionally, the courts ruled that because Marissa retreated into her home after firing her warning shots, she had the means not to use deadly force since she had means to escape her threat. She was also charged for endangering her ex-husband and her children because she had fired it into the air (here is an article on the issue via a Chicago Tribune article). Now, domestic violence adds a whole other layer to Marissa’s story because it shows a connection with her would-be victim: her husband. Now why is Marissa’s story being paralleled to that of George Zimmerman? Mainly, I believe it is because of the application of the same “Stand Your Ground” law towards Zimmerman.
Some will say that there is a heavily racist system of justice when juxtaposing these cases. Other will argue that there is actually an overemphasis on the issue of race. I will argue that it is hard to juxtapose these two cases but there is clearly injustice in how these two crimes were prosecuted. Race also cannot be overemphasized, but it can’t be negated as a non-issue either.
Why was it that Marissa Alexander, a black woman, received the maximum sentence? Why did the jury only take 12 minutes to rule that Alexander was guilty?
Now you may be asking. how does this relate to the Zimmerman case? I first wondered myself how a woman–who shot at her ex-husband whom has a history of domestic violence against her–received a punishment holding her “accountable” to her actions, why wasn’t George Zimmerman? I think this is due to a legal loophole.
Zimmerman was charged with 2nd Degree murder and hate crime charges. The state of Florida defines a hate crime against a persons as a crime, “in which the perpetrator intentionally selects the victim based on one of the following characteristics: race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, advanced age or mental/physical disability”. And though our media depicts defendants as “guilty until proven innocent” our judical system functions with the benefit of the doubt that all are innocent until proven guilty. As the defense painted a picture of Treyvon Martin instigating the fight that broke between the two, self-defense seemed “justifiable. ”
However, that is one narrative that was spoken that day. Treyvon Martin is dead and cannot speak for himself how that night played out. As Martin Bashir articluates here, Martin was ultimately caricaturized with “an identity that implies criminality, juvenile delinquency, and all around characteristics of a trouble maker ” as Mr. Bashir phrased it. Limited narratives can often be perpetuated. However, with every narrative, there is a counter-narrative.
Let’s not forget this narrative: George Zimmerman WAS still responsible for this young man’s death. Perhaps not criminally responsible–as ruled by the courts– but he had facilitated in causing the death of Treyvon Martin. There indeed is a tragedy that he will not be held accountable at all to Martin’s death. Perhaps if aggravated assault with a deadly weapon–as was the case for Marissa Alexander–was added to George Zimmerman’s charges, he too would have gotten the maximum sentence for his actions that night.
The acquittal of Zimmerman also goes to show that race may not have been a determining factor but it definitely is an integral element in how this incident played out.
I think that the significance of this case goes back to something that’s been reiterated to me during my time with WEAP. They take on healthcare, workers’ rights, and immigrants’ rights because–though they are seemingly unrelated, they all relate to one another through economic human rights. In my opinion, the same kind of connection can be made with the outcome of the Zimmerman case.
I’d like to conclude with the following: How Treyvon’s death is about the struggles of race. And how struggles are ONGOING and relevant to us all. Treyvon’s tragedy isn’t just a struggle for the recognition of struggles and injustices in Black communities in America but in recognizing the injustices that befall all communities.
What happened to Treyvon Martin was a travesty, but i think out of this tragedy is where we can gather in solidarity to fight the injustices of our society and making sure that these same tragedies are no longer repeated time and time again. Race plays a factor in a lot of things. Many testimonies covered by the media highlight the voices of Black communities and their leaders raising concern that the justice system ignores young Black men.
In truth, the blind eye that is turned away from injustice affects too many communities.
I’ll take a case that hits a bit closer to home for me.
It is the case of Aya Nakano.
Aya is a recent University of Oregon graduate and a Bay Area native who was gunned down by whomever rear-ended his car an hour before his 23rd birthday (Report on Aya Nakano’s Death by the Hinterland Gazette); after after playing basketball with his friends at the RSF (the Recreational Sports Facility–UC Berkeley’s gym that I utilize everyday). Aya brings it even closer to home for me because his last name is Nakano, this makes me think that he is of Japanese lineage. Aya’s mother wrote a letter as a tribute to her son which was published in The Daily Cal, the UC Berkeley’s school newspaper. In her letter, Aya’s mother addresses her son as “anak.” Some of the closest friends I grew up with are Filipino; i know that anak is a term of endearment. When she refers to her son as anak, I can hear one of my best friends’ mom calling for my friend and it pains me to think she is calling out to her anak in mourning. Her pain is so vivid as she simultaneously mourns her son’s death and celebrate his life in her letter titled, A Mother’s Tribute to Her Son.
Violence was inflicted upon Aya by a stranger just as Treyvon. A parent should not have to bury their child. A mother in Oakland– like a mother in Florida–had to bury her son, who was just beginning his life, because she had lost to gun violence. And there are hundreds of cases like Aya that do not receive national publicity. Oakland PD has not received any witnesses thus far who’ve helped & stepped forward to uncover the truth of that night Aya was murdered.
Another similar case is that of the death of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. I learned of Abdulrahman’s story through an article in The Atlantic. Abdulrahman’s story adds another complication as it deals with US drone strikes in the Middle East. Abdulrahman had been one of four American’s killed in a drone strike recently. US military drone strikes have been notorious for indiscriminately targeting large areas under numerous presumptions–especially in relation to Islamic extremist terrorist cells in the Middle East. However, Abdulrahman was unaffiliated with any extremist Islamist groups. He simply was a young man of 16, in search of his father who went into hiding after being placed on the US government’s kill list. Even with the complications of international politics, Abdulrahman’s death reflects how violence truly is indiscriminate. Yet there is no publicity around Abdulrahman’s death either. No national spotlight to deduce what happened on the day of his death. No trial or court hearings to demonstrate someone being held accountable to Abdulrahman’s death.
Injustice does not discriminate against a specific race, creed, gender, or religion. It affects us all equally. That is why I advocate that we should take these tragedies not to point fingers and feel victimized by the system, but to understand that struggles, like that of Treyvon, is the same struggle as the one afflicted upon Aya and Abdulrahman.
We are all culpable to the faults and loopholes of our conventional systems of justice, economics, and politics that preys on us all. By remaining divided, we ignore that these systematic forms of injustice simply bear masks adorned by the same beast. We work within outdated systems of politics, economics, and justice that is not just. It has wrongfully blinded Justice and pits up all against one another as if to deter us from seeing the deficiencies of these systems.
There is true strength in solidarity. The mentality of being a part of the 99% is so powerful. The “Occupy” movement has dampened its image, but once we truly understand the significance of the statement: it is powerful.
It is the idea that,
Your struggle is my struggle. Their struggle is our struggle.
My post is not to water down the significance of Treyvon Martin, but to show that there is a universality in the injustices of this country that afflicted Treyvon, Aya and Abdulrahman. There are countless tragedies of individuals who’s lives were lost to violence and injustice. The struggle isn’t only in a single community, but it is universal and can be felt everywhere.
However, we should not be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. If we are to learn from theses mistakes, we can allow ourselves to continuously adapt to address the struggles of injustice. It is like a Tae kwon do fight…if your game plan isn’t working, you have to adjust to your opponent’s game and continuously adapt your approach and game plan for the fight persevere.
There is also strength in working together. Working proactively in solidarity will contribute to parents not having to bury their children whom were lost due to violence.
It is time for us to recognize a path to solidarity and action from tragedy and make sure not to repeat these same injustices over and over again.
the Pacifist Fighter