In W.E.B. DuBois' iconic work The Souls of Black Folk, he wrote the following:
"BETWEEN me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word."
These eloquent words are the epitome of the ineloquent rage that is on display for America in the wake of George Zimmerman's acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin. As a law student, I am not surprised by the verdict in the trial, but I am reminded more than I ever wanted to be that law and justice are not the same thing. Law is a system of rule designed throughout time by the powerful, and in the case of the United States, white, property-owning men. But justice is the sense of right and wrong that each person develops, acknowledges, and determines for themselves. While it may be the law in many states, including Florida, that you can follow someone you have no business following, disobey the directive of law enforcement in doing so, get into a fistfight, and when you're losing, kill the person ... it is not justice. Justice would have required George Zimmerman to stay in his car. For those who immediately lash back "it wasn't illegal for him to get out of his car," they are right; and even more, they display my example of the distinction between law and justice.
Even more, contrary to defense attorney O'Mara's statement that if George Zimmerman were black he would have never been charged, most of America knows that if Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman had switched roles that night, Martin would be behind bars. And that is what it feels like to be a problem. It feels like knowing that your society views you as expendable, willing to tolerate you, but not to respect or protect you. The anger, tears, and frustration that America sees in the ongoing protests is the internal cadence of the black man in America. But like DuBois stated, seldom is this soulful rhythm on display, instead we smile, or act uninterested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, and seldom say a word.
So what now? For now, I am compelled to use my legal mental capacities to form a legal solution. I am proposing that every state in the United States adopt the Trayvon Martin provision. The provision should state that no person is entitled to claim self-defense if he could have reasonably avoided the conflict that is contemporaneous to the killing. In laymen's terms, George Zimmerman would not get to claim self-defense when he could have avoided the entire conflict by staying in his car.
I hope that legal advocates, colleagues, organizers, and the entire nation will join me in calling for the addition of the Trayvon Martin provision to every state's criminal code. We must strike while the iron is hot and while the attention of the nation is focused on America's "problem."