Commentary: After the Zimmerman Verdict

Keith Boykin, Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman

Commentary: After the Zimmerman Verdict

Now that George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin, now is the time to have the uncomfortable conversations about race and not avoid them.

Published July 14, 2013

Like millions of other Americans, I was shocked when I watched the jury verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. I am shocked still as I write these words.

But shock and sorrow will not bring Trayvon Martin back to life. For that matter, neither would a guilty verdict in this case. For those of us who have sought justice for Trayvon, all we ever wanted from the beginning was an arrest and a trial of the man who shot and killed an unarmed 17-year-old kid.

That trial finally came to an end Saturday evening, as six non-Black jurors decided there was no crime committed when a 28-year-old man profiled, followed, fought, shot, and killed a teenage boy armed only with a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona Iced Tea.

Although lawyers for both sides in the trial argued mightily that the case was not about race, it was always about race. Prosecutor John Guy implicitly acknowledged as much when he asked the jurors to reverse the roles of the suspect and the victim. Does anyone seriously believe a 28-year-old Black man would have been acquitted for killing a 17-year-old non-Black kid?

Even today, with a Black president and a Black attorney general, unarmed Black males are still considered more threatening than non-Black people bearing guns. That's the only way to comprehend the implication of the verdict in this case. By acquitting George Zimmerman, the jurors essentially agreed with the wildly implausible defense argument that a young, 158-pound child would viciously attack an armed 200-pound grown man who was following him in a truck.

I suppose in the eyes of a frightened non-Black female juror, young Trayvon was not a victim but a predator. That alone speaks volumes about the work we still must do in this country to repair the wounds of centuries of racial programming.

So how do we recover and where do we go from here?

For Trayvon Martin's family, they may wish to consider a civil lawsuit against Zimmerman, much as the Brown family did when O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. Defense attorney Mark O'Mara, however, promised to seek immunity against such a civil suit.

But for the rest of us, we too must be vigilant and engaged. Now is not the time to surrender to despair. This is the time to fight for justice. This is the time to open the closet doors that have concealed our nation's ugly racial baggage for too long and allow the baggage to breathe in the open to air it out. In other words, this is not the time to avoid those uncomfortable conversations; this is time to initiate them.

We must also continue our work to repeal state Stand Your Ground laws and other elements of the criminal justice system that have been used disproportionately as a weapon against our people. And of course, we must exercise our right to vote out any and all governors, state legislators, judges, and other elected officials at all levels of government who support these laws or stand in the way of a fairer criminal justice system.

This work will not be easy, and it will not be accomplished in the next TV news cycle, or even before the next election, but it must be done if we are to make meaning of this senseless tragedy.

Trayvon Martin did not have to die. But now, more than 500 days after his soul passed from the earth, his death need not be in vain.


Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for each week.

 The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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Written by Keith Boykin


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