I wrote about the calls of “Justice for Trayvon” last March when black America was in an uproar because George Zimmerman still hadn’t been arrested and charged with a crime. As tends to happen when people take to the streets and pressure the system from the outside, the powers that be responded. Zimmerman was arrested and charged with murder. Throughout the trial, the calls for justice continued. Now that Zimmerman has been acquitted, people are claiming that justice has not been served. I agree. But as I wrote last March, I think that it has long been too late for justice for Trayvon.
Justice for Trayvon would be if had been born into a society where the color of his skin did not make him a suspect. Justice for Trayvon would be if he lived in a society where his own neighbor did not see him as a threat or a criminal simply because he was black. Justice for Trayvon would mean that he would still be alive today, living out his life peacefully, fulfillingly, and without fanfare. But it’s long been too late for all of that.
The United States’ justice system is designed to punish. Punishing injustices does not create justice. Punishment may be a just response to injustice, but it does little to create a just society. If the US justice system was actually interested in creating a just society, it wouldn’t simply prosecute and punish individuals. If the US justice system was actually designed to create a just society, it would equitably fund public schools so that every child could receive a quality education. It would create quality economic options for all people and pay workers a fair, living wage. It would fight against racism and teach us to love each other regardless of skin color. It would actively promote equality of all people regardless of race, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation. It would work to create a society where punishment is not necessary because the social ills which lead to crime do not exist. I don’t believe that George Zimmerman was born a monster. But I do believe that he is the product of a monstrous, hateful, and ugly society. Our justice system does nothing to rectify the massive, macro injustices which lead to the individual, micro ones.
I’m upset by Zimmerman’s acquittal as well. It’s the latest of many injustices which have marked the entire Trayvon Martin saga. But by solely reacting to an unjust verdict, we actually legitimize the US’s extremely flawed and narrow approach (or lack thereof) to creating a just society. If Zimmerman had been convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 30 years in prison, would that have been justice? If he had been convicted of 2nd degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, would that have been justice? Would that have been justice for Trayvon? I don’t think so. I think that would have been an extremely limited and narrow version of justice. I think it was far too late for justice for Trayvon.
Should we be upset by the verdict? Yes. Among other things it sends a message that it’s okay to profile, criminalize, attack, and kill young black men. But let’s not delude ourselves and say that a conviction would have been justice for Trayvon either. Let’s not act like those messages, that black life is dispensable, disposable, and valueless, are not sent everyday anyway. If we want justice, we need to fight to address the institutional injustices that pave the way for so many individual ones.
Power for Trayvon.