What is it like to receive the benefit of the doubt when standing near a dead body with a loaded gun? What gives you the right to silence someone permanently who questions your authority? These two questions have haunted our collective memory for over a year. Challenging power does not presume the guilt of George Zimmerman, but it recognizes the privilege that he held in relation to Trayvon Martin. The details of what transpired on that dark February night are murky, but it is clear that Zimmerman viewed Martin as a threat which eventually ended with a deadly confrontation. A jury of women will have to examine the merit of the witness testimony and evidence. Regardless of the verdict, the tensions around race, class, and justice prior to his arrest, during the trial, and as it concludes deserve further examination.
Forty-six days passed before George Zimmerman was arrested. It took a national movement to bring attention to the incident. After months of anxiously waiting and sifting through the legal jargon that dominated the news cycle, the trial began in mid-June. Although the prosecution and defense have both proceeded with zeal in questioning witnesses, there is one particular moment in which the dynamics of power resonated once again. The supposedly controversial testimony of Rachel Jeantel reared its ugly head with the firestorm of critiques over her vernacular. The attempt to discredit her dead friend and later Rachel Jeantel herself based on demeanor, dialect, and inconsistency demonstrates what led to mass mobilization initially. This trial represents the injustice that people of color and women constantly face because of bias.
Two black youth have been publicly persecuted for their very existence. Let that resonate. One is dead and the other will forever have to cope with the loss of one of her only friends because one decided to go to the store and the other decided to talk to her friend on the phone while he was doing it. While no one will ever be certain if Jeantel’s account is completely accurate, the records show a phone call soon followed by a murder. No amount of sensationalizing can change those facts. As the trial concludes, one can only wonder what’s next. Whether Zimmerman is found guilty or innocent, the treatment of Martin and Jeantel in the court of public opinion has clearly proven that inequality is deeply entrenched. The death of Trayvon Martin will forever remain a symbol of how the abuse of power cannot be attributed to a Jim Crow past. In the shadow of two Supreme Court decisions that unravel the gains of the Civil Rights movement by challenging equal access to education and eroding voting rights, the struggle for justice and equality are not over and cannot be muted.