A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
The USA, the greatest nation on Earth has had its fair share of highs and lows. No comment hurts more than the often made observation that this great nation was perhaps built on the slavery of African people.
America has come a long way from those dark days, so far indeed that an African American man, in the shape of Barack Obama, has been elected as the 44th President of the United States of America.
But there are still huge racial issues to overcome. When we say diversity in Europe, we tend to mean gender issues, when diversity is mentioned in America it is only referring to one thing, race. Many Americans are oblivious to this focus, but it hits me, sometimes literally, in the face nearly every day.
It is worth noting that Germany has rightly paid $61.8 billion to Jewish victims of the Holocaust; to this day the US has not even paid $1 to African Americans to compensate for over 400 years of brutal slavery. There are still deep contemporary and historical racial problems in America, but it could be a lot worse, and it could also be a whole lot better.
No country is perfect but personally, America has always shown me nothing but love and in return, I cannot help believing it’s one of the best countries in the world.
Martin Luther King and Malcolm X died trying to get civil rights for African Americans. The likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have tried to ‘carry the baton’ from where they left off and forcefully represent African Americans in the continued fight for their civil rights.
The Trayvon Martin case has brought strong racially charged feelings to the surface again. A mature man armed with a gun, confronting a teenager who was going about his business, going home and doing nothing wrong, was shot dead in what most other nations would see as nothing less than cold bloodied murder.
The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman took place on the night of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, United States. Zimmerman was eventually tried for second-degree murder and manslaughter, but only after huge and sustained protests from the African American community. He was however, found not guilty.
For someone born and raised in the most cosmopolitan city on Earth, this looks at best to be a provocative and hazardous step, at worst it just doesn’t appear fair or just.
Celebrities in film, music and sports took to twitter to show their disgust with the verdict.
World champion Ishe Smith commented on the verdict that it was a “very sad day in American history.” Hip-hop mogul, Russel Simmons called for peace in the streets of America and for Florida to look at their gun laws, “I know many people are very upset about the verdict, but we must remain peaceful. No matter what, remain peaceful. This is not ‘only’ about race. This is about laws that allow racist acts to go unpunished. We must change laws that promote injustice.”
Former undisputed world heavyweight champion, Lennox Lewis, added to Russel’s thoughts on the laws, “these laws clearly need to be changed. This is why all votes are important, not just the President’s. That could be my son.”
Former world champion Kendall Holt, asked the question “I wonder what President Barack Obama thinks of another child murderer going free in Florida!!!”
There have been comparisons with celebrities that did time for lesser crimes; for example, American football player Michael Vick killed a dog, and superstar singer Lauryn Hill didn’t pay taxes. All did time. George Zimmerman killed a young man and is free.
Statements given by Zimmerman have indicated that on the night of the shooting he was in his vehicle on a personal errand, when he noticed Martin walking beyond the gated fence inside the community.
Statements read that Zimmerman then called the Sanford Police Department to report Martin’s behaviour as suspicious, stating “this guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about” and “looking at all the houses”. While still on the phone with the police dispatcher, Zimmerman exited his vehicle, and after concluding his telephone call with police was involved in a violent encounter with Martin. The encounter ended with Zimmerman fatally shooting Martin once in the heart at close range.
Trayvon was just innocently going home. He had bought some Skittles and a drink. He was walking in the rain with his hoody on. Zimmerman thought he looked ‘suspicious’ and consequently, confronted the 17 year old kid, which led to the boy being tragically killed.
Due to Florida’s gun laws Zimmerman was found innocent. This is a seriously dangerous and flawed law, as you can start an altercation with someone and if you become scared for your safety, for whatever reason, can kill them on the grounds of the nefarious ‘Stand your Ground’ law.
George Zimmerman’s defence was funded online, and backed by pro-gun groups who feel strongly about America’s gun laws that enable them the right to walk into a store and buy a firearm and use it.
When the police arrived on the scene, Zimmerman stated that Martin had attacked him and that he had shot him in self-defence using a weapon that he had on him. Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose and from two vertical lacerations on the back of his head. Zimmerman was treated at the scene, after which he was taken to the Sanford Police Department.
Zimmerman was detained and questioned for approximately five hours. He was then released without being charged.
The circumstances of Martin’s death, including the fact that he was unarmed, coupled with the initial decision not to charge Zimmerman attracted national and international attention and scrutiny. Allegations of racist motivation for both the shooting and police conduct were voiced by many.
If a teenager is walking home and a man confronts them aggressively, it would appear obvious that they have a right to defend themselves. The teenager was probably very rattled and scared. I am a grown man and I would also be worried about this reckless vigilante approach.
Zimmerman had a gun on him, just how much did that fuel his aggressive and confrontational approach to challenging Martin?
It is very difficult to understand how a not guilty verdict would be reached in most other states, let alone in most other nations. There was really only one witness, and that was Trayvon Martin and he was now dead.
Even though Zimmerman targeted Trayvon because of the dangerous and racist profiling of young African American men in America, I do not believe this was a race crime.
In my humble opinion, this had much more in common with the recent events in America where 27 children were killed in Sandy Hook Elementary school by Adam Peter Lanza, and The Century 16 movie theatre, where James Holmes killed 12 movie-goers in Colorado.
America has a big problem with its gun laws. Obama wants to tighten them, but the gun lobbies have big connections in Congress and the Senate. The Republicans are big backers of gun ownership, and therefore it will be nearly impossible for Obama to make any headway, but he is the first African American to be head of state, so he has already achieved the impossible in many eyes.
Tracy Martin, father of the murdered Trayvon, said afterwards “even though I am broken-hearted, my faith is unshattered; I will always love my baby Tray.”
CNN and Fox News have been televising the court proceedings like it was a major sporting event. It has been interesting (and a little distasteful) to see how different America and Britain are in their reporting of high profile court cases.
The ‘sentimentalisation’ of the court proceedings and the televised coverage of the case is something that the UK does not yet have.
Piers Morgan has been critical of the American judicial system, and he has not held back on his television show. He firmly believes that George Zimmerman was guilty of killing an unarmed boy, who just had a bag of Skittles to defend himself against George’s gun.
NAACP Florida State Conference President, Adora Obi Nweze, released a statement after the verdict “We lost a young man due to senseless violence, but justice did not prevail”. “… Last year we pushed for the arrest of George Zimmerman and a thorough investigation and trial. Today, we are still called to act. No one should be allowed to use this law to commit a senseless crime again.”
Whilst there are many, many great things about America, this case has the potential to split America in half, dangerously dividing and polarising opinions.
President Obama commented on the Trayvon Martin case that “When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids, if I had a son he’d look like Trayvon.”
He also signalled the need to further the debate about Florida’s Republican-backed and hugely permissive “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, which have seen the number of “justifiable homicides” from self-defence shootings almost triple since it was introduced in 2005.
Mr Obama called for a thorough investigation into every aspect of the case.
Abraham Lincoln famously said “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”