On the night of February 26, 2012, a 17-year-old African American boy, Trayvon Martin, died of a gunshot wound inflicted by 28-year-old volunteer neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Although the exact details of the tragic incident were murky and tensions high, 27 days later on March 23, President Obama stood in the White House Rose Garden declaring "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” words that would soon emotionally involve him in a local murder trial.
Two days after the president's announcement, a little known unit of the Department of Justice called the Community Relations Service deployed to the town of Sanford, Florida where Martin was shot, unknowingly to the American public. While there, they helped to organize and manage rallies and protests against George Zimmerman, even though permission for the DOJ to intervene in local law enforcement cases are issued only when there is evidence that civil rights are being compromised.
A month after President Obama’s announcement, protests consisting of Martin sympathizers ensued as media outlets broadcast the words “I am Trayvon Martin” across television screens nationwide.
As the country faces potential threats of race-related riots pending the outcome of the Zimmerman trial, many can’t help but stop and wonder if Zimmerman even had a chance at a fair trial from the beginning.
Although the Obama administration has recently attempted to distance itself from the Zimmerman case and the president’s original statement, many wonder if it is too late to forget about his emotional reaction and the outcomes that have since transpired.
In the event that Zimmerman is found not guilty, Obama must be prepared with a rational and informed statement in which he is adamantly intolerant of those threatening unruly discourse and rioting against a justice system that is, or should be, color-blind.
Surrounding the environment and circumstances of Martin’s death, some members of the media have compared the incident to that of a racial hate-crime that happened more than half a century ago.
Contrary to that comparison, in response to the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his supporters peacefully united to fight segregation, racism, and the evil that lay behind both. Blacks, whites, Republicans, Democrats, Christians, and Jews worked together to ensure that racism became rare and socially unacceptable. Today, only 3.8% of Americans are reluctant to even have a neighbor of another race, and it remains one of the least racist countries in the world. Within two generations, American has elected a black president. Are these milestones not proof enough that a world in which we once knew to contain so much racial pain and fear is on its way to extinction? Almost 58 years later, the case of Emmett Till should not be confused with or compared to that of Trayvon Martin. Instead of promoting peace and faith in America’s judicial system, the federal government intervened in a criminal justice matter to highlight race hatred and fear for political advantage.
Race equality is not a one-way street. It is not the job of the government to pick and choose which hate crimes to punish and which ones to turn a blind eye.
Is George Zimmerman guilty of second degree murder? Maybe the answer is yes. Maybe the answer is no. One certain fact is that it is not the job of the president of the United States, or the federal government, to decide or persuade the verdict.