In 2005, I was wrapping up my first year at Missouri State University. I chose to take summer courses at the local community college in my hometown. One of the courses I took was an introduction to sociology course. One thing I learned from that course that still resonates with me today was when our professor called a student out on the issue of race. I can’t remember the exact issue the man brought up, but I do remember her response. She said, “I will accept dissenting opinions that are based on fact, but one thing I will not tolerate is sweeping the issue of race under the rug.”
The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. The case caused the issue of race in America to resurface. While I without a doubt believe the prosecution did a poor job of proving their case and never wanted to prosecute George Zimmerman in the first place, I believe there are several elements that prove George Zimmerman was negligent in his actions that resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin. So many people wrote on Twitter and other social media that the justice system failed us in this trial. The truth of the matter is our justice system didn’t fail us in this trial but the prosecution did.
I don’t believe race was as big of an issue as the mainstream media portrayed it to be, but it has reignited the debate on race relations in America. Was Trayvon Martin profiled? Without a doubt he was. I just don’t know if he was profiled because of his race, or for the fact that he was a suspicious individual walking down the street in a hoodie. I’m not in any way excusing George Zimmerman’s profiling of Trayvon, but what exactly he profiled about Martin is up for debate.
Don West and Mark O’Mara, the two defense attorneys for George Zimmerman made some startling comments after the not guilty verdict was handed down that makes me worry about the future of America. Don West stated that the prosecution of George Zimmerman was disgraceful. Mark O’Mara said that if George Zimmerman had been a black man this case would have never been tried. O’Mara is the same man that days before the verdict was read stated that race wasn’t an issue in the case on ABC News. I responded to Mark O’Mara’s comments fairly strongly on Twitter. I wrote,
“GZ’s attorneys ignore the fact that blacks are disproportionately represented in criminal cases. If GZ was black, he’d face death penalty.”
The fact of the matter is that while African-Americans make up approximately 12% of the American population, they represent over 40% of those incarcerated. Inequalities exist in the American justice system and there is no denying that fact.
For those that have followed the trial of George Zimmerman from the very start, you may remember that the defense originally intended to claim the “Stand Your Ground Law” to defend George Zimmerman. The law ended up getting pushed aside so the defense could focus more on Zimmerman’s right to self-defense.
For those unfamiliar with “Stand Your Ground,” in Florida, it’s the right for individuals to not back down when they feel threatened in a situation. This trial exposed gaping flaws in this law. More damning evidence that this law is flawed and the inequalities of minorities in the criminal justice system comes to light in the 2012 trial of Marissa Alexander of Florida. She shot warning shots into a wall to warn her abusive husband that she was standing her ground. She referenced stand your ground in her defense, but she ended up getting charged with aggravated assault and was offered a plea deal of three years in prison. She rejected the plea deal by the same prosecutor that reluctantly pressed charges against George Zimmerman. She opted to go to trial. Marissa Alexander, a woman that had graduated with her masters degree, had three children and had been hospitalized in the past by her abusive husband was found guilty by a jury of her peers and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Another example of how blacks are treated poorly by the justice system comes in the form of penalties for cocaine. Crack cocaine is more likely to be used by poor black people compared to affluent whites using powder cocaine. Before President Barack Obama signed the ‘Fair Sentencing Act,’ in 2010, people caught with crack cocaine could be charged more harshly compared to individuals possessing powder cocaine. Under federal law there was a five year minimum sentence for the possession of crack. That gaping injustice was patched up by the Fair Sentencing Act being signed into law.
It’s no secret that black people are given a harder time in the criminal justice system across the United States. They are disproportionately represented in prisons, they receive stricter penalties when they commit crimes, and they are more likely to be victims of violent crimes. When we begin advocating for equal justice for all, we can progress as a nation. We can’t continue to ignore the issue of race and crime in America. Trayvon Martin had helped us to remember this problem we have in America still exists today. We must begin a national dialogue for real reform in the American justice system. If there is one thing Trayvon Martin taught me, it’s that we can’t continue sweeping race under the rug any more.