Trayvon Martin: Notes on the Race Issue
Whether or not Trayvon Martin died because he was black, and regardless of George Zimmerman’s personal motivations, the question of race and racially motivated killings is and must be central to the discussion of this case. Here’s why: The fact that Trayvon Martin was black does not prove that George Zimmerman is a racist (though he might be). What it does do is bring the public’s attention to the dangerous space that the Florida law has opened for racially or otherwise unjustifiably-motivated crime to go unpunished. When a law ceases to require the shooter to retreat or to provide evidence of self-defense, a breeding ground for indefensible killing – including hate crime and gang violence – has been created. On this issue it doesn’t wholly matter whether Martin’s death was in fact the result of his race, what matters is that it could have been and the law would not have held the shooter accountable.
Thanks to public outcry, Zimmerman is now facing charges of murder and will have to explain his actions, but perhaps more importantly, it is the law that the public is putting on trial. The tragic circumstances of Martin’s death and the failure of the state to hold Zimmerman immediately accountable raised a lot questions that may never be answered, but it is the questions, not the answers that are the point. Without a trial we would never know whether Trayvon died because of his race, and the not knowing is precisely the problem with the Florida law.