In light of the recent Trayvon Martin trial verdict, many people-of all racial backgrounds-are finding themselves unwilling to accept the outcome as a judicial maneuver which quelled all qualms regarding guilt, innocence, and the need for social justice. And in a country that still looks towards its highest-ranking government official as a moral compass and source for wisdom, it seems that many of us are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of what President Barack Obama has to say regarding the jury’s acquittal. Amongst many other arguments he articulated in his public statement, Obama spoke thus:
“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America,” Obama said. “I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”
Obama went on to state:
“I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities,” Obama added. “We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.”
While these words possess the eloquence and gravity that many Americans have come to expect from a very erudite and informed President, I am a bit disappointed-both personally and politically-with Obama’s summations. In addition to lacking a call for further inquiry into the role that race and social power may have played in determining the jury’s verdict, Obama said nothing about historical race-based cases that this trial is eerily similar too. (My pastor did, however, and I thank God he made the connection between this case and the Emmett Till trial which lives on as one of the most telling and compelling commentaries about race in America.)
Although I am ultimately unsatisfied with the ideas Obama articulated in his press statement, his words were rife with the type of practical and inalienable wisdom that should certainly be employed by American citizens interested in improving the shape and substance of their own communities. As Obama stated, we should calmly reflect on everything that has happened with respect to this case. We should also widen the circles of compassion and understanding in our own communities. Additionally, we should ask questions designed to address and attack our ongoing battle with gun violence. Each of these edicts reflect the prudence of a President who understands that peace is a desirable state for people to pursue with diligence and determination. For these reasons, I cannot conclude that Obama’s statement was entirely inefficacious.
It did lack the type of fire and ire many of us desired, however. Specifically, a call for some sort of significant and substantive form of justice. In light of the evidence that I have personally reviewed, I am not at all persuaded that Zimmerman is innocent-at all. On any level. And while I had remained fairly persuaded that he was guilty over the past year, his response to the reading of the not guilty verdict crystallized my opinion. Although Zimmerman’s smile can be interpreted in innumerable ways, I choose to define it as haunting and grotesque. And in the spirit of exacting honest discussions regarding America’s ongoing race problem, that disturbing smile reminded me of the unrepentant expressions worn by people who stood beneath trees where men of color were lynched by white men who would never be tried in a court of law for the crimes they committed. Zimmerman’s grin also reminded me of the Emmett Till case, the one in which two white men found innocent of killing a young black boy later confessed their crime to Look! magazine. (And they were reportedly paid $4,000 for doing so.)
Much more could be said about Martin, Zimmerman, and Obama. And since the evidence and outcome of this trial is eerily similar to the lack of justice dealt to Emmett Till after he was brutally murdered, I think we should keep this ugly coffin open.