Gerald Britt: Constructively seeking justice, post-Zimmerman acquittal
Trayvon Martin’s murder and the acquittal of George Zimmerman have transfixed and traumatized our nation. In black communities, Trayvon’s death evoked memories of the heinous, brutal murder of Emmett Till, whose killers were also acquitted, only to admit later, in an interview for which they were paid $4,000, that they actually murdered the 14-year-old Chicagoan.
The Martin case appears to have been traumatic for some Zimmerman sympathizers as well — so traumatic, in fact, that for some, the only way of dealing with the tragedy has been through torturously distorted logic, defaming the teenager as a pot-smoking homophob whom Zimmerman mercifully killed before he grew into the thug he aspired to be.
The only way some people can make peace with living in a country in which innocent youth can be murdered with impunity is by visiting a gruesome illogic upon the memory of this young man. Reality must be violently contorted to deal with the absence of justice when senseless acts of violence are deemed legal.
The stand-your-ground laws, while not a direct claim of Zimmerman’s defense team at trial, were nonetheless the toxic soup in which his claim of self-defense was boiled. Such laws, peddled throughout the country by the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit, conservative policy think tank, have been adopted by 33 states. ALEC also wrote the template for and promoted the voter-ID laws that are threatening to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of elderly, poor and minority citizens throughout this country.
Such legislation embeds in our legal system and politics a dangerous ideology that further marginalizes a large swath of vulnerable Americans by categorizing them as threatening.
So what can be done in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin tragedy?
The murder of our Trayvon Martins is possible because of legislators who willingly capitulate to groups such as ALEC. That can be changed at the ballot box. Voting is also the way we ensure that we have competent prosecutors and judges who apply just laws with reasonableness and fairness.
Next, registered voters must stop dodging jury duty. A large pool of potential jurors must be available for there to be deliberations by a more diverse population.
And should Texas’ voter-ID law actually stand, religious leaders, nonprofit organizations and civic leaders must work vigorously to register and get out the vote among our most vulnerable citizens and assist them in obtaining all necessary documentation to vote. We should also insist that, in the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers allocate funding to increase the number of places where acceptable ID can be obtained. That means more Department of Public Safety centers, particularly in rural areas, on state-funded university campuses and even in banks, post offices and Social Security offices if possible.
We also should call on the federal government to enact a uniform policy for early voting in federal elections.
There’s a story about a minister who had scheduled a lunch with a judge. The preacher decided to come to court early and watch the judge in action. In proceeding after proceeding, he watched the judge hand down severe sentences to first-time offenders. Barely able to contain himself at lunch, the preacher said: “Judge, I sat in your court all morning expecting to see justice done. … I didn’t see it. Where was the justice?” The judge replied, “Reverend, mine is not a court of justice, it’s a court of law. If you want justice, change the law!”
The Trayvon Martin story is as much about justice as it is about the law.
We must be committed to affecting both.
Gerald Britt is vice president of public policy at City Square. His email address is email@example.com. He blogs at changethewind.org.