In the speech given by Robert F. Kennedy on the night that Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed, he said, “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white, or whether they be black.”
Many are looking back to that speech because of the murder of a 17 year old young man in Florida, Trayvon Martin, a young man who was unarmed, a young man who did nothing to lead to his death, except be born black. First, and most important, I send my heartfelt prayers to Trayvon Martin’s mother and father. I can’t imagine how their hearts are breaking. You watch your child leave your house and go out into the world, you do not expect that that will be the last time you see him alive. Saying it is wrong is insulting in its understatement. But Trayvon’s death must be taken in a broader context, because it wasn’t an accident, which would have been hard enough for them to bear; and it wasn’t an illness, which too would have been immeasurable on the scale of their grief. Trayvon Martin was killed because the man who killed him was looking for a reason to find something about him that looked out of place, he was killed because he was black, he was killed because our society, through complicity, condoned his death. Yes, the man who killed Trayvon, George Zimmerman, was responsible, he had the gun that shot Trayvon, he fashioned himself some kind of neighborhood savior, he did the actual deed, but he was encouraged in that deed. He was encouraged not just because we have yet to fully acknowledge and deal with the racism that still exists in this country. George Zimmerman was encouraged to kill Trayvon because of a law passed in Florida, the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law which grants immunity to anyone who uses deadly force, inside or outside of their home, if the person can reasonably claim they acted in self-defense.
The law was passed in 2005, with significant backing by the National Rifle Association, supported by members of both political parties, and signed into law by Governor Jeb Bush. Twenty other states have followed Florida’s lead and passed similar versions of this law. Why did Floridians feel such a law was necessary? I did a little research on the crime rate in Florida. It peaked in 1994 and has steadily declined every year since. There was no crime wave happening in Florida when this law was passed. Let’s be honest here – because we know what this law is really about. This law was passed to fan the flames of hatred, to encourage an “us and them” mentality, to foster the illusion that white people are somehow under siege. As State Attorney William Meggs said, “We have solved a problem with the Stand Your Ground Law that didn’t exist.”
It’s time we all took a long hard look at what we are about in this country. I’m tired of hearing our political leaders talk about what is wrong with this country when what they claim is wrong isn’t a lack of compassion, isn’t a lack of justice, isn’t the increasing divisiveness, isn’t the finger-pointing moralizing, isn’t the subtle and not so subtle encouragement of violent behavior under the banners of “faith” and “morality.”
From all accounts, Trayvon Martin was a good kid. I struggled with whether to include that statement, because it shouldn’t make a goddamn bit of difference, but it does to some people. Some people would like to find reasons for Trayvon’s death other than the real reason.
George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Trayvon Martin, will likely not be prosecuted. Because of the “Stand Your Ground” law, he hasn’t even been detained.