Demonstrators march during a protest of George Zimmerman's not guilty verdict in the 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin, Monday, July 15, 2013, in Atlanta. (David Goldman/AP)

With the jury’s verdict of “not guilty” in the George Zimmerman case, I felt as if I’d stepped back in time to the ’50s and ’60s, when all-white juries refused to convict the white perpetrators of crimes against black people. Even today, that verdict told me, a young black man’s life is not worth the price of a pack of Skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea. And something is wrong with our judicial system, I thought, when Michael Vick goes to prison for dog fighting, and George Zimmerman is found not guilty after killing an unarmed black teenager.

After my initial shock and horror, I did find some solace in the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.” Nevertheless, I remain convinced that America is in the midst of a civil rights crisis.

With the jury’s verdict of “not guilty” in the George Zimmerman case, I felt as if I’d stepped back in time to the ’50s and ’60s…

No black or brown person, regardless of education, class, occupation, behavior or dress, is exempt from racial profiling. Clearly, it was this kind of racial profiling – stereotyping – that drove George Zimmerman to assume that a young black man wearing a hoodie on his way home in a gated community was out of place.

Even some laws, such as Arizona’s SB 1070, invite discriminatory racial profiling against Latinos, Asian-Americans and others presumed to be immigrants, based on how they look or sound. And still other laws and policies, like the “war on drugs,” three strikes or mandatory minimum sentencing and “stand your ground” statutes, disproportionately affect black and brown people.

Now, as we approach the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic March on Washington, it seems appropriate to ask what verdict he would pass on America today. Undoubtedly, blacks have made important progress in the last 50 years, including the historic election of the country’s first black president. By and large, though, I’m certain Dr. King would be distressed by the disparities that still exist between black Americans and white Americans.

We’re not at the bottom of the mountain anymore. But this verdict reminds us that we still have miles to go.

In employment, income, health care, wealth creation, the justice system — in so many areas of public life, he would still be dismayed by how far we have to go. He would be appalled and heartbroken by the astounding incarceration rates of black men, the genocide of our young men living in urban centers, and the violence perpetrated against young black men at the hands of both the police and individuals like George Zimmerman.

And yet, I believe Dr. King would call on civil rights and black leaders to speak, not to the black people or to the white people, but to the good people. For it was the good people who worked across racial, religious and socioeconomic lines to change unjust laws. It was the good people who helped black Americans achieve the same rights — under law, at least — as white Americans.

We’re not at the bottom of the mountain anymore. But this verdict reminds us that we still have miles to go. It will take many good people to ensure that we fulfill Dr. King’s dream. It will take all of us, working together, to create an America that truly lives up to the promise of our pledge: “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”


Tags: Law, Race

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  • Lawrence

    I was disappointed in this case too. An innocent young kid minding his own business was murdered. A killer went free and that hurts the whole country.

    But I think it is interesting and worthy of discussion how the black population was actually celebrating OJ’s acquittal when it was obvious to all and a jury later found him “responsible” for the murder of 2 white innocent victims. As a matter of fact, the infamous slow-speed chase with OJ heading to Mexico with a gun in his hand was not admitted in trial. Had it been admitted at least one juror said she would have reached a verdict of guilty.

    Our legal system seems to allow people who commit horrible crimes to walk free due to technicalities in the law.

    In OJ’s case the murder was ruthlessly thought out, and planned. Slicing the throats of his former girlfriend and her friend. With his acquittal, another major injustice, we saw no major chaos instead, we saw jubilation.

    I do wonder why when a black man is acquitted of a crime that he obviously did ( and was convicted of being responsible for ) to two white people, there was no backlash.

    Blacks seem to only be protesting Tryavon Martin’s trial outcome, but I am sickened by both.

    • dust truck

      I was with you up until your last racist statement. People of ALL colors are protesting ZIMMERMAN’S trial outcome.

      Why do you hate black people so much?

  • tomdmeyer

    I can easily imagine how how a teenager — especially an African American teenager — would be angered to find himself being wrongly mistaken for a burglar and subsequently watched, and briefly followed by an older man.

    But what I find infuriating about this Ms. Phillips’ editorial — and many others like it — is that her telling makes absolutely no mention of the fact that Trayvon Martin broke George Zimmerman’s nose and repeatedly hit his head against the pavement after being profiled and before being shot. Zimmerman may well have provoked Martin into the fight beyond what he has admitted, but we have absolutely no way of knowing that.

    Skipping mention of the fight is fundamentally dishonest.

  • jayinatlanta

    I’m sad that an alum of my alma mater would diminish Mike Vick’s crimes. I’m a lifetime Falcons fan and was a big fan of Mr. Vick as our quarterback. Prior to Mr. Vick’s professional career, my friend was attending Virginia Tech with Mr. Vick himself while I attended Emerson.

    But you don’t believe Mike Vick belonged in jail for his admitted role in torturing and killing defenseless animals? That’s ludicrous. I expect this from Twitterati who don’t consider the implications of their words, but expected better here. I’d respectfully encourage you to not use Mr. Vick’s inhumane behavior as a weight on any scale of justice.

    As for Mr. Zimmerman, I certainly join you in outrage at all of the factors that made it at one point uncertain that he’d even stand trial at all for killing Mr. Martin. And I further join you in disgust at all of the factors that conspired to allow this specific jury to declare him not guilty of anything in Mr. Martin’s death.

    Yes, it no doubt should certainly concern the “good people” you mention that a Black woman in Florida can fire a warning shot at an abuser and get 20 years, and yet an armed man can aggressively pursue a child, declare that he was so afraid that he HAD to shoot the child through the heart, and continue to be a free man, with a continued right to bear arms.

  • AnneMilton

    Bravo, Collette.

  • David F

    It just won’t end will it? How many more of these worthless articles on Cognoscenti?

    Apparently we are to believe it’s OK to attack someone who has not laid a hand on you, instead of just walking home as Martin could have done but chose not to do. It’s OK for a young man to beat and smash another man’s head into the concrete sidewalk as you say to him: “‘you are going to die tonight.” Zimmerman was apparently just supposed to lie there and take it until he was finally beaten to death. I guess then at least we wouldn’t have to be hearing about the supposed injustice of Zimmerman being acquitted for self defense.

    Rather than tell your young men they need to fear going out into the streets because they may be shot by some evil white cracker who’s profiling ever black he sees, maybe you should be telling them not to attack people and beat their heads into the sidewalk, because you just never know who you’re messing with.

    Did you not watch the trial that you demanded? Oh, you didn’t want a fair trial you say? You simply wanted Zimmerman found guilty? Justice wasn’t really a goal of this whole charade was it?

  • Thinkfreeer

    As for this opinion piece, she is entitled to her opinion, but I’m not sure why this outlet would choose to publish it. Her viewpoint is narrow and ignores some basic facts. Enough with the Skittles and Arizona Tea! That is a red herring. It is not clear at all that Zimmerman practiced racial profiling. It is clear that the author does. Racial profiling practiced by a private citizen is not illegal. Profiling is not necessarily racial. If I don’t like the way you are dressed are behave, I will probably avoid you. That is profiling. If you happen to be a different race, you might think that was the cause, but you would be wrong. Michael Vick? Are you serious? The bottom line is that the net results of criminal cases cannot be automatically determined to be driven by racial factors, despite the color of the participants. In the US, your right to PURSUE happiness is guaranteed. Happiness is NOT.

  • Fred

    I must agree with most of what’s already been written. One of the key pillars of a Republic is a fair judicial system. Key to this is that the system does not follow the political dictates of the time. Those denouncing the verdict seem to be saying there’s something wrong with the jury or judicial system because its result ran opposite to what was the politically correct thinking of the time. This kind of attitude has threatened republics in the past, whether it was Socrates in ancient Athens or Dreyfuss in France a century ago. Our judicial system showed its strength in this case because it did NOT succumb to political demands. I’m proud that the system did work and our citizens on the jury followed the dictates of the law and the Constitution, not the politico-emotional demands of either the masses or our elites.

  • David F

    Why don’t you talk about Roderick Scott instead of George Zimmerman for a little while?

    • Julia Perez

      Thank you David, another sad story. At least this kid received his day in court. A petition and a lot of attention was necessary for the Martin kid. At least Scott was smart enough to show remorse..Zimmerman, via his brother still thinks he did nothing wrong…in his interview he claimed it was G-d’s plan…So I do see the similarities but also differences

  • sumajo

    I am so relieved to read the comments here and see that others share in my annoyance with this continued rant. David F, ThinkFreer and Fred, tomdmeyer have all said it better than I could. Is it people who regret they weren’t around for civil rights marches in the sixties who keep sounding this drum beat? There are real problems of racism in the country, there are serious problems with the judicial system, but for the love of all that’s holy wake up and realize that this case is not a good example of either. If anything good comes out of this (just) verdict, I hope it’s that people will eventually turn their attention and energies off of George Zimmerman to the very real injustices that young black men and others face in this country daily.

  • Futo Buddy

    so if Zimmerman was wrongly convicted for murder that would be a good verdict? that would be justice?