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No Innocence Left to Kill: Racism, Injustice and Explaining America to My Daughter


mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>I mean really discover them, and for yourself; not because someone else told you to see the elephant standing, gigantic and unrelenting in the middle of your room, but because you saw him, and now you know he’s there, and will never go away until you attack him, and with a vengeance.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>To watch her crumble, eyes swollen with tears too salty, too voluminous for her daddy to wipe away? Well now that is but the latest of my heartbreaks; to have to hold her, and tell her that everything will be OK, and to hear her respond, “No it won’t be!” Because see, even though she learned last night about injustice and even more than she knew before about the racial fault lines that divide her nation, she is still a bit too young to fully comprehend the notion of the marathon, as opposed to the sprint; to understand that this is a very long race, indeed that even 26.2 miles is but a crawl in the long distance struggle for justice. And that if she is as bothered by what she sees as it appears, well now she will have to put on some incredibly strong running shoes, because this, my dear, is the work.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>And yes, I am fully aware that there are still those who would admonish me for even suggesting this case was about race. Not just the defenders of George Zimmerman, with whom I shall deal in a moment, but even the state, whose prosecutors de-racialized this case to a point that frankly was as troubling as anything the defense tried to do. Maybe more. I mean, the defense’s job is to represent their client, and I cannot fault them for having done so successfully. But the prosecution’s job is to make it clear to the jury what the defendant did and preferably why he did it. By agreeing to a fundamentally colorblind, “this isn’t about race,” narrative, they gave away the best part of their arsenal before the war had really started.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Those who deny the racial angle to the killing of Trayvon Martin can only do so by a willful ignorance, a carefully cultivated denial of every logical, obvious piece of evidence before them, and by erasing from their minds — if indeed they ever had anything in there to erase — the entire history of American criminal justice, the criminal suspicion regularly attached to black men, and the inevitable results whenever black men pay for these suspicions with their lives. They must choose to leave the dots unconnected between, for instance, Martin on the one hand, and then on the other, Amadou Diallo or Sean Bell or Patrick Dorismond, or any of a number of other black men whose names — were I to list them — would take up page after page, and whose names wouldn’t mean shit to most white people even if I did list them, and that is the problem.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>And surely we cannot deny that the presumption of criminality was dependent on this dead child’s race can we? Before you answer, please note that even the defense did not deny this. Indeed, Zimmerman’s attorneys acknowledged in court that their client’s concerns about Martin were connected directly to the fact that previous break-ins in the neighborhood had been committed by young black males.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Which is to say, Trayvon Martin is dead because he is black and because George Zimmerman can’t differentiate — and didn’t see the need to — between criminal and non-criminal black people. Which is to say, George Zimmerman is a racist. Because if you cannot differentiate between black criminals and just plain kids, and don’t even see the need to try, apparently, you are a racist. I don’t care what your Peruvian mother says, or her white husband who married the Peruvian mother, or your brother, or your black friends, or the black girl you took to prom, or the black kids you mentored. If you see a black child and assume “criminal,” despite no behavioral evidence at all to suggest such a conclusion, you are a racist. No exceptions. That goes for George Zimmerman and for anyone reading this.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>But apparently that moral and existential truth matters little to this jury or to the white reactionaries so quick to praise their decision. To them, the fact that Martin might well have had reason to fear Zimmerman that night, might have thought he was standing his ground, confronted by someone who himself was “up to no good” is irrelevant. They are saying that black people who fight back against someone they think is creepy and who is following them, and might intend to harm them, are more responsible for their deaths than those who ultimately kill them. What they have said, and make no mistake about it, is that any white person who wants to kill a black person can follow one, confront them, maybe even provoke them; and as soon as that black person perhaps takes a swing at them, or lunges at them, the white pursuer can pull their weapon, fire, and reasonably assume that they will get away with this act. I can start drama, and if you respond to the drama I created, you are to blame, not me.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Goetz, as you’ll recall, was the white man who, afraid of young black men because he had been previously mugged, decided to shoot several such youth on a subway. They had not threatened him. They had asked him for money, and apparently teased him a bit. But at no point did they threaten him. Nonetheless, he drew his weapon and fired several rounds into them, even (according to his own initial account, later recanted), shooting a second time at one of the young men, after saying, “You don’t look so bad, here, have another.”

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>But let us pretend for a second that after Goetz pulled his weapon and began to fire at the young men on that subway, one of them had perhaps pulled his own firearm. Now as it turns out none of the boys had one, but let’s just pretend. And let’s say that one of them pulled a weapon precisely because, after all, he and his friends were being fired upon and so, fearing for his life, he opted to defend himself against this deranged gunman. And let’s pretend that the young man managed to hit Goetz, perhaps paralyzing him as Goetz did, in fact, to one of his victims. Does anyone seriously believe that that young black man would have been able to press a successful self-defense claim in court the way Goetz ultimately did? Or in the court of white public opinion the way Zimmerman has? If you would answer yes to this question you are either engaged in an act of self-delusion so profound as to defy imagination, or you are so deeply committed to fooling others as to make you truly dangerous.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>We don’t even have to travel back thirty years to the Goetz case to make the point, in fact. We can stay here, with this case. If everything about that night in Sanford had been the same, but Martin, fearing this stranger following him — the latter not identifying himself at any point as Neighborhood Watch — had pulled a weapon and shot George Zimmerman out of a genuine fear that he was going to be harmed (and even if Zimmerman had confronted him in a way so as to make that fear more than speculative), would the claim of self-defense have rung true for those who are so convinced by it in this case? Would this jury have likely concluded that Trayvon had had a right to defend himself against the perceived violent intentions of George Zimmerman?

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>No, Martin-as-shooter would never have benefitted from these public pronouncements of innocence the way Zimmerman did.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>And so it continues. Year after year and case after case it continues, with black life viewed as expendable in the service of white fear, with black males in particular (but many a black female as well and plenty of Latino folk too) marked as problems to be solved, rather than as children to be nurtured. And tonight, their parents will hold them and try to assure them that everything is going to be OK, even as they will have to worry again tomorrow that their black or brown child may represent the physical embodiment of white anxiety, and pay the ultimate price for that fact, either at the hands of a random loser with a law enforcement jones, or an actual cop doing the bidding of the state. In short, they will hold their children and lie to them, at least a little — and to themselves — because who doesn’t want their child to believe that everything will be alright?

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>And if their children have to know them, then mine must know them as well.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>If their children are to be allowed no innocence free from these concerns, then so too must mine sacrifice some of their naiveté upon the altar of truth.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>So to the keepers of white supremacy, I should offer this final word. You can think of it as a word of caution. My oldest daughter knows who you are and saw what you did. You have made a new enemy. One day, you might wish you hadn’t.