Although it was nine years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday.
I followed every day of the Trayvon Martin trial. I caught as much as I could of the live trial as possible on my lunch hour. I listened every evening on the news to the commentaries and summaries of the day’s events.
At this time, I was living in a small town in southern Kentucky with well less than 10% of the total population non-white. But even white people in the town were saying George Zimmerman was in the wrong for pursuing Martin the way he did. Trayvon was fighting for his life and that’s when and why Zimmerman shot and killed him.
For me and many others, there was no way Zimmerman wasn’t going down. He followed Trayvon Martin after authorities told him not to, and pulled a gun on him and killed him. That verdict of not guilty gave me feelings of literal nauseousness, topped with anger and mistrust in the justice system. It still brings tears to my eyes.
At the time, the verdict came in as a surprise slap in the face. Zimmerman actually got off, with the ludicrous argument of “self-defense”. It was heartbreaking.
Of course, I had heard of things like this happening but this was my first time living through such a situation. There was Emmit Till, a Black young man at age 14, who was killed in the deep south during the turbulent times of the 1950’s Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. He was killed by white men that were said to be justified in what they did because of Till’s supposedly aggressive speech and attitude. There was Medgar Evers, a prominent Black Civil Rights activist, who was innocently gunned down in his own driveway by a Klansman that was initially acquitted. These cases were what I knew in history. But I couldn’t believe, 50 and 60 years later, such injustice would still be with us in the United States.
With that kind of history in mind, most people — including newscasters, clergy, Black or White, even the defendants themselves — were taken by surprise with the recent Ahmaud Arbery murder trial’s guilty verdict. In today’s pop culture, the first impressions that came to mind were the shocked face emoji or the brain exploding emoji because this was definitely mind-blowing. These seem to sum up precisely how most people in the United States, and probably around the world, are reacting to the news given the unrest, injustice, and protests of recent months. But yes, three white men are guilty of murdering an innocent, unarmed Black man, and it was a jury of 11 out of 12 white people in the deep south that said so.
Again, looking at the history of civil rights and social injustice in the United States, poses questions like: Has Civil Rights made such bold strides and have started paying off for justice to be done, and for all? Are the Black Lives Matter protests the world has witnessed in the last two years starting to change the consciousness of this nation?
Some may say the Ahmaud Arbery jury may have wanted to wrap up its duties quickly to be able to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday. Similar to the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict just a week before, there was not much said or done over it either. Rittenhouse was found not guilty of killing three people after coming across state lines with a semi-automatic gun to attend a protest. He used the “same defense” argument that seems to work for white people in the United States, especially when killing Black people.
Legal scholars are warning that white vigilantism remains a very real threat. Just as people are shocked and surprised about the outcome of the Arbery case, many are waiting for the other shoe to drop. Is this the calm before the storm? Is there something looming, in preparation, similar to the organized vigilantism on the Capitol Building, all because a certain sect of people didn’t like an outcome? We pray not, but recent news reports say Trump and his supporters are still working and maneuvering at state and local levels for unknown reasons.
The majority of people were surprised with the Arbery murder verdict. And based on what we’ve seen throughout history, it’s completely understandable. But whether this will be the new standard or just an anomaly, well, we’ll just have to wait and see.