Nick Florest puts the arrest of George Zimmerman in a context that is both historical and looking to the future.
April 11th, 2012.
5:50 p.m. – It’s 10 minutes before the Florida Special Prosecutor Angela Corey announces what charges will be filed against George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case. For the first time, in a long time, I’m nervous. My heart beat increases. My hands become sweaty; something that never happens. Anxiety caused by the prospect that justice, for once, may be served.
When the news first broke of his murder on February 26th, I was already calloused. By this time, stories of this nature were commonplace. As an African-American male, I can practically track my life through assaults and murders of people of color.
1992: 8 years old. Sitting in my living room, I’m watching the evening news, too naïve to understand the gravity of the jurors finding the officers involved in the Rodney King beating innocent; an attack that enraged so many, it led to the infamous Los Angeles Riots. A vicious beating caught on videotape and nothing.
2000: 16 years old. I was recording rap songs with friends cramped in a Brownsville basement that smelled of Chinese food, Entemann’s cakes and old dog drool when the news broke that Amadou Diallou’s assailants from the NYPD wouldn’t face punishment for his death. 41 shots and nothing.
2008: 24 years old. Four officers were acquitted of the charge of killing father and husband-to-be, Sean Bell, on his wedding night. 50 shots and nothing.
I experienced Patrick Dorismond, James Byrd, Jr., Oscar Grant, senselessly countless others and I grew jaded at the justice system. It just seemed like the only lives lost that would ever be taken seriously in the court of law would be those who weren’t of color. Those who didn’t come from a ghetto or a country other than America. Those who didn’t ‘just fit the description’.
I looked at Trayvon’s 17-year-old face, darkened slightly only by the shadow of his hoodie, with eyes that beamed, “I want a future,” and sighed with the disappointment one feels at the tragic, meaningless loss of someone who had not yet reached their potential, who never had a chance to grow and truly experience all that life has to offer. Here was just another name to add to the list: the list of those not human enough for justice.
I didn’t think much of the public outcry. I continued to wear hoodies for the same reason I always had: for fashion, not for a statement. I simply didn’t believe in the power of protests anymore. Rallies, vigils, social media campaigns, songs to raise money and support for the victim’s family had all come and gone plenty of times before. Feeling that Trayvon would also end up a forgotten name, I put news of protests on mental mute as I watched the investigation pass from one hand to the other.
45 days. 45 days…
6:02 p.m. – My blood pressure is rising as Corey says, “we didn’t come to this decision lightly.” I clench my fists. That sentence always starts bad news for someone, somewhere, somehow. And more often than not, for people of color in cases like these.
She continues to thank parties involved as if this were an award show. The suspense is nerve-wracking. I want to know if there will at least be charge against Zimmerman. He killed a boy.
“Murder in the second degree.”
I recline in my camping chair with a sense of unexpected satisfaction. I couldn’t believe it. What everyone wanted to happen was starting to finally become reality. The tension leaves my body as my attention slowly fades away from the press conference. I heard what I wanted and now, I have hope.
I have hope that Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton son’s life would not be lost in vain. For once in my life, a case involving the brutal slaying of an innocent African-American won’t be drowned out by negative publicity with racial undertones. It won’t result in slap on the wrist for punishment for the perpetrator and a few million dollars of taxpayer money for the family.
Enough may finally be enough.
I then question what this will mean for future situations like these should they happen again.
Will there be a Trayvon Martin law that will stop the unjustifiable murders of innocent men and women of color?
Will there be truly fair and equal justice in America?
Will we have a real and honest dialogue about race in this world and finally heal from all the pain racism has caused us all?
Then I remember this is only the announcement of the charges against Zimmerman.
The trial hasn’t begun yet.
No jury selection. No deliberations. No verdict read. No press conferences with a tearful nation watching the Martin family close their eyes in relief, thanking God for the peace they rightfully deserve. It’s just an announcement.
I return from my fantasy of a just America as the Martin family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, thanks those the young, the elderly, all who supported the cause for justice. I’m no longer skeptical and dismissive about the Trayvon Martin shooting will go.
Instead, I remind myself that any change, any progress worth having takes time. It took time just to get a charge against George Zimmerman. The legal process is going to take more; I must be patient. We must be patient. Inspired, optimistic, but patient.
This is “only first base.”