Death by Stereotype

George Zimmerman is just a man.

And, as such, he is unimportant. He has been in the news again recently, appearing at gun shows, signing autographs, and as the Treyvon Martin shooting resurfaces again again, I think that we need to truly understand what the crime was here. Because more than the event itself, it is the ongoing response from conservatives in supporting Zimmerman in a show of ongoing support.

This is the real crime. And it has revealed something that (excuse my hyperbole) is truly evil in America. At the very least, it has revealed the deep stain of racism and a curious form of “closet-racsim” amongst conservatives that crosses age groups and genders.

Zimmerman is a wannabe. A paranoid, controlling wannabe, who, upon seeing a black male teenager walking down the street that he patrols as a vigilante (of the most useless, sordid kind: the lynch mobber), immediately saw this black male as an object; a stereotype, and this stereotype means that, for Zimmerman that night, Martin was a criminal, and therefore guilty until proven innocent (innocent on Zimmerman’s terms I might point out).

Even though a call to 911 told him to stop (because people are allowed to wear hoodies and walk down a street; this is not a suspicious activity), Zimmerman must have been caught up in the adrenaline and emotion of his own paranoia and desires and suspicions being confirmed and vindicated. So he shadows the black male criminal in his car.

And then he steps out of the car and challenges the intruder.

If you are one of those people who claim that “because Martin was attacking Zimmerman, backing his head against the pavement, he was justified in protecting himself by shooting Martin (even though you would think an adult would be able to defend himself with his hands from a teenager)” this is where you need to pay attention and understand the actual situation.

Martin must have been aware of a car slowly following him down the street. He’s a 17 year old black man….and that stereotype is something that he is always conscious of, something that will be held against him, regardless of his personal actions. He must have been frightened, nervous, suspicious. He must have felt hunted, pursued, threatened. To me, this seems undeniable. So when Zimmerman stepped out of that car, armed, what would you have done?

Zimmerman created the situation out of his own racist, mall-cop variety racism. And I think that we have to admit to ourselves that Martin had no little chance of emerging from that encounter alive. Consider this a counter-factual proposition: what could Martin have done to have lived? Not attack Zimmerman? Run away? Said “Howdy, neighbor, just going for a stroll?”

This is the crux of the problem. The truth is that this was a confrontation with Zimmerman clearly as the aggressor. Zimmerman was baiting Martin, and effectively forcing him, out of pride or fear or both, into the stereotype as the black male as a inveterate suspicious criminal.

There was almost certainly a verbal altercation. We cannot know what was said, but it was not friendly, it was confrontational language, to say the very, very least. Anyway, we know that Martin attacked physically, and was shot for it. He was goaded by the situation; and because he reacted with a shred of self-respect, and in a manner suitable to self-defense, he fulfilled the stereotype as the black male as a criminal, thus effectively authorizing Zimmerman to shoot him.

To say to a man who is being followed down a street that you cannot stand your own ground, that you must be meek and submissive when people goad you, taunt you, and treat you like a criminal, is more than unfair and un-empathetic, it is racist.

Put your self in Martin’s situation. And do not dare to say “Oh, I would have been friendly and been, no sir, mister Zimmerman, sir, I am just walking home”. Zimmerman created a situation where Martin, even though he did not know it, had to choose between his dignity as a human being and his death.

 

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