On Sunday, February 26, 2012 an unarmed African American male child was shot and killed by a White man in Sanford, Florida. Trayvon Benjamin Martin (February 5, 1995-February 26, 2012) had celebrated his 17th birthday just 20 days before he was killed by George Zimmerman on that fateful Sunday night. The 17 year old Martin had gone to a store in the neighbourhood to buy a snack and was on his way back to the home where he was visiting with his father when he was accosted by the gun wielding Zimmerman. This African American male child according to Zimmerman “looked suspicious” because he was walking in the neighbourhood. Zimmerman was a volunteer with Neighbourhood Watch and was patrolling the neighbourhood in that capacity when he called police to report the “suspicious” African American male walking in the neighbourhood. The police dispatcher advised Zimmerman to remain in his vehicle and not follow the “suspicious” person he reported seeing. Zimmerman choose to leave his vehicle and stalk the 17 year old Martin through the neighbourhood eventually accosting and killing the child who was carrying a can of iced tea and some candy. Zimmerman fired the fatal shot and killed the unarmed 17 year old African American male child when he was just 70 yards (64 metres) away from the backdoor of the home he was visiting. Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin’s father was visiting a friend in the gated community and was waiting for his child to return from buying a snack at a neighbourhood convenience store. Imagine the shock this father must have experienced when he had to view his child’s lifeless body instead.The second degree murder trial of George Zimmerman is expected to begin sometime this month in Florida. On Monday, June 10 jury selection began with an expected 500 potential jurors to interview with the unenviable task of whittling that number down to select 6 jurors and 4 alternates. This jury selection is expected to be tense given the media attention that the killing of the unarmed teenager has garnered. Although it was shocking to hear and read that an unarmed person carrying a can of iced tea and some candy was shot and killed it was not surprising when it was revealed that the victim was African American. African American men are seen as dispensable by White Americans and there is hardly any concern expressed when they are killed especially if the killer is White. Just a few days before Martin was killed by Zimmerman, on February 2, 2012, Richard Haste a White New York City policeman chased 18 year old African American male Ramarley Graham into the bathroom of his home and shot him at close range killing him in the presence of his grandmother. The woman overcome with shock and grief at seeing her grandson blown away before her eyes was threatened with death by Haste.
The term “Breathing While Black” has been coined to explain (http://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/04/opinion/in-america-breathing-while-black.html) this state of affairs. On February 26, 2012 the night that he killed the 17 year old Martin, Zimmerman claimed that he did so in self-defense and even invoked Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” law as justification for ending the life of the unarmed African American teenager. Florida's 2005 “Stand Your Ground” law was reportedly written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) two organizations that have worked together to introduce and promote the “Stand Your Ground” law in several state legislatures. Since the 2005 passage of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law similar statutes have been passed in several other states. The law states that: “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”This law in essence gives people like Zimmerman the authority to stalk and kill any unarmed African American and claim that they thought the person intended to do them bodily harm simply because of the colour of their skin. This example of White skin privilege has been a part of American society since the first boatload of refugees arrived from Europe and claimed the land that was already occupied by people who had lived there for millennia. The practice continued unchecked when the refugees after claiming Native land decided to kidnap Africans from the African continent and transport them to the New World as enslaved people who were forced to provide unpaid labour and robbed of their human rights.
It seems Zimmerman thought he was back in the days of slavery when any enslaved African accosted by a White person was compelled to obey instructions to halt and await orders. After reportedly trailing the teenager he demanded that he explain why he was walking in the community. Zimmerman seemed to think that just being African American was reason to suspect Martin of being a criminal. Several witnesses have said that they heard Martin screaming for help as he was shot by Zimmerman. This vigilante throwback to the infamous patrollers of American slavery era was a neighbourhood watch volunteer in the community acting as if he was a storm trooper in the Nazi “Schutz-Staffel” (SS.) He certainly had an inflated sense of his position and “authority” in the community which he seemed to think gave him the right to shoot and kill an unarmed teenager.The killing of Ramarley Graham and Trayvon Martin are not isolated incidents there is a history of White violence against African Americans. As in Canada it is a result of a White supremacist culture where African Americans and African Canadians are over policed and racially profiled routinely with excuses made by the authorities and even by ordinary citizens. Very recently there have been examples of this reported in the daily White Canadian newspapers. Dr. Clem Marshall an African Canadian educator won a Human Rights victory when his complaint of racial profiling by Toronto police was proven and he received a settlement from the Toronto Police Services Board. There was also the case of Raymond Costain an African Canadian man who was brutalized by police causing the judge who presided over the case to remark: “This was unlawful, extrajudicial punishment that will shock the public.” In spite of the evidence to the contrary there continues this denial of White supremacist practices in North America.
Even after Zimmerman was found standing over Martin’s body with the smoking gun police did not charge the man. It was only after a public outcry and several demonstrations calling for his arrest that police arrested the man and charged him. Now it is a waiting game to see if justice will be served. Whatever the outcome of this trial there is a father who will not be spending this Father’s Day or any other with his son. Instead he will have to sit through the trial of the man who killed his son and hope that the judge and jurors will deliver justice for his child’s untimely passing at the hands of a White man who obviously thought “Breathing While Black” is a crime.