Commentary

Saunders: Zimmerman verdict disappointing, but not surprising

bsaunders@newsobserver.comJuly 15, 2013 

Editor's Note: Story has been edited to correct the spelling of Emmett Till.

It is, ultimately, a testament to our faith in America that so many of us were surprised.

Surprised by the verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial, surprised by the speed with which it was reached, surprised by the fact that a kid who was walking home in the rain with a bag of Skittles and a can of tea can be shot dead by a wannabe cop and nothing is done about it.

Who can be surprised that he walked when they weren’t even going to charge him until the case became a cause célèbre on the Internet? The cops initially just accepted Z’s version that the kid with the Skittles and tea jumped him and he had no choice but to smoke him in self-defense.

Okay, George. See ya later. Now go and try to kill no more.

In the hours after Zimmerman skated on the second-degree murder charge in the pro forma trial, I had to turn off the ringer of my telephone as incredulous, uncomprehending friends expressed dismay.

You’re kidding, right, I said. Surprised? You must not have been paying attention.

Time doesn’t heal this

No one who’s been paying attention – or who has read a history book – should ever be surprised at what happens in a courtroom when a black dude is involved.

Disappointed? Yes.

Outraged? Si.

Heart-broken? Most indubitably.

But surprised? Surely you jest. You must not have heard of Emmett Till or Medgar Evers or countless hundreds – thousands? – of others whose lives weren’t considered worth more than an expired bus transfer once their cases went to trial. If they ever made it that far. Both of those men – OK, one was a 14-year-old boy – were murdered, their killers known but either they got away with it or were not tried until decades later.

Speaking of Evers, last month was the 50th anniversary of the World War II army vet’s assassination in his Mississippi carport by a coward lying in the bushes, prompting me among many to write about it, its impact on history and the role two former N&O staffers played in covering it.

“Um, hello. That was 50 years ago,” one person wrote, expressing a common sentiment I received. “When are you people going to get over it?”

You get over it.

Wrong guy convicted

The major difference between the Evers and Zimmerman cases, it appears, is that many white people – including one of the four people who called me – were shocked and repulsed by the Zimmerman verdict. I doubt that was the case in 1963.

Did I say the Zimmerman verdict? I meant the Trayvon Martin verdict, since he was, from the minute the bullet pierced his young chest, the one whose life – whose very right to exist – was being weighed in the balance. When a prospective juror asked why was Martin out so late and still was selected to render a verdict in his death, it was apparent who was going to be on trial.

During the Richard Nixon impeachment hearings, as it was becoming clear that Nixon had regarded the Constitution with the awe and respect one would hold for a used snot rag, U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan of Texas eloquently intoned, “My faith in the Constitution is whole. It is complete. It is total.”

For those of us who’ve been paying attention, when it comes to the U.S. judicial system, it is our absence of faith that is whole, that is complete, that is total.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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