FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Persistence of Racism in America

by LINN WASHINGTON, JR.

I received the text message from my buddy blasting the acquittal of George Zimmerman minutes before I boarded an airplane in London in route to South Africa.

To say I was not surprised by the acquittal handed down by the predominately white, all-female jury is an understatement.

That verdict freeing wannabe cop Zimmerman, whose self-defense excuse rested on his conflicted claims that he shot a teen through the heart during a confrontation that Zimmerman started – after Zimmerman ignored explicit orders from police to stand-down – is so symbolic of so many structural problems that have corroded the core of American society since its colonial-era start.

Unarmed teen Trayvon Martin was walking to his father’s home after purchasing candy and ice tea when targeted by Zimmerman who – seeing a black teen wearing a hoodie – told police dispatchers Martin was “up to no good” and looked like he was on drugs. Zimmerman’s observations, made at night in the rain, about Martin being up-2-no-good and on-drugs reeked of racial profiling – a fact downplayed by prosecution and studiously avoided by defense during Zimmerman’s trial.

While a part of me wanted to side with my buddy’s ire at Zimmerman’s not even getting a wrist-slap conviction on a lesser charge for his punk admission that he killed a kid who he said beat him up during a scuffle, another side of me remained detached, reminded as I was of the details in so many stories that I’ve covered in thirty-plus years of being a journalist.

I’ve seen too many racially unbalanced juries render acquittal verdicts in too many race-tainted cases where clear evidence of the white defendant’s culpability existed – culpability obscured by lack-luster prosecution and other perverse judicial system procedures/postures.

I remember writing about a black teen in Philadelphia who spent a year in prison awaiting trial for a rape because lazy police and prosecutors didn’t review a security camera tape that eventually freed that teen. And I remember writing about a Philadelphia judge giving big breaks to the white teens charged with raping a 13-year-old black girl at the city’s MLB stadium months after that black teen’s release.

Interestingly, lack-luster prosecutions and judicial system perversities don’t seem to affect the prosecution of minorities, particularly blacks. Blacks and Hispanics, for example, comprise over half of the inmates in Florida’s prison system despite those two groups accounting for slightly more than a third of Florida’s population. Do blacks commit crimes, disproportionately? Yes! But
mass incarceration of minorities ignores the fact that whites also commit crimes but disproportionately do not end up in dungeon-like prisons.

One of the first race-roiling stories I remember covering involved a white teen charged with killing a five-year-old black child in the mid-1970s. That teen had recklessly sped up a small street in South Philadelphia – driving in reverse and driving DRUNK – running over the child and then fleeing the scene.

Like the Trayvon Martin murder (and it was murder in real terms even if not legal definitions) it took public outrage to push prosecutors to haul that drunk-driving hit-and-run teen into court.

And, like the Martin murder, lack-luster prosecution laid the groundwork for that teen’s acquittal by an all-white jury.

The prosecutor assigned to that case had little trial experience, having been plucked from the DA’s law library staff – an act I always felt was intentional to limit prosecutorial effectiveness in the case. While the white teen defendant did not present a conflicted self-defense claim like Zimmerman, he did play a warped defense card. Basically his defense was: Oops – I made a stupid, alcohol-soaked mistake…I’m sorry…Kinda…Please don’t send me to jail with all those Nig…I mean Negroes who are real criminals.’ And that BS worked.

Many of the postmortems of Zimmerman’s acquittal faulted the prosecution for acting like a defense team member. The case presented by those prosecutors in Florida was so muddled it made reasonably competent lawyers cringe. And, yes, that muddled prosecution aided efforts by Zimmerman’s defense in snowing the jury on Zimmerman’s asserted (and evidence-challenged) claim of innocence of any wrongdoing.

Could an aggressive black prosecutor have done a better job than the dumb&dumber team assigned to the Zimmerman case? That’s debatable. However, it is beyond debate that few non-white prosecutors worked in the prosecutor’s office covering Sanford, Florida when Zimmerman killed young Martin. The office contained nearly three dozen prosecutors yet non-white prosecutors there could be counted on the fingers of one hand with a few fingers left over. That’s a fact I found when I contacted court administration officials in the Sanford area seeking such race-illuminating information – information detailing structural deficiencies that the mainstream media (conservative and liberal) persistently overlook as unimportant to report.

Remember, prosecutors in Sanford initially backed that city’s top police who reflexively accepted Zimmerman’s self-defense claim without question. Neither the legislative intent nor court interpretations of Florida’s controversial ‘Stand Your Ground’ law allow a person to start a confrontation, lose that confrontation and then shoot the victim of their aggression calling it a lawful act of self-defense.

A 2008 report by the Florida Supreme Court faulted the continuing lack of diversity among prosecutors, judges, court staffs and attorneys across the Sunshine State as contributing to both bias and diminishing “the concept of fairness.”

That 2008 report was a follow up on the Florida Supreme Court’s seminal 1990 report about race bias in the justice system that criticized the fact that minorities were “underrepresented” as judges in that state. Only one minority judge (a Hispanic) served among the 16 judges on duty when Zimmerman killed Martin in the judicial district encompassing Sanford, a small town about 20-miles from mega-theme-park famed Orlando.

A comment by a civil rights activist contained in that 2008 Florida high court report chillingly foreshadowed the acquittal of Zimmerman.

That activist, from a town near Sanford, told Florida Supreme Court examiners that most Florida blacks believe that “if you are white and kill a black, there is a very slim chance that you will be punished.”

Yes, embedded biases contributed to those jurors acquitting Zimmerman, the son of a former magistrate judge in Virginia – the state that once contained the capital of America’s Confederate states that fought to sustain slavery during America’s Civil War. Florida was an early member of those Confederate states.

No surprise that American society perniciously denies the role of race in its body politic.

Zimmerman’s father wrote an e-book defending his son where he proclaimed his belief that racism was a thing of the past until he rudely discovered real racists assailing his son: the NAACP (the nation’s oldest civil right organization) and the Congressional Black Caucus–two entities working to reduce the racism Zimmerman’s father doesn’t see around him daily.

The elder Zimmerman’s misperceptions on persistent race prejudice (that no doubt must have perverted justice in his former courtroom) are offensively systemic.

The denial of racism as an element operative in the acquittal of Zimmerman is similar to denials evident in responses some Florida judges provided Florida Supreme Court investigators’ for that 2008 report.

When answering a survey question, 70% of white judges in Florida insisted courts in their state treated whites and blacks alike – an opinion inconsistent with the findings of Florida Supreme Court investigative reports released in 1990, 2000 and 2008.

Although racially separate water fountains are a thing of the segregationist past and the U.S. twice elected a black man as president, separate and unequal justice remains.

Americans like to condemn South Africa for its once ugly system of apartheid, forgetting the fact that the architects and sustainers of apartheid in South Africa defended their system as modeled on American practices.

Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
Thomas Knapp
Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State
Jordan Flaherty
Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity
Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
Steve Horn
What Do a Louisiana Pipeline Explosion and Dakota Access Pipeline Have in Common? Phillips 66
Brian Saady
Why Corporations are Too Big to Jail in the Drug War
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Peaceful Protest to Armed Uprising
Luke Meyer
The Case of Tony: Inside a Lifer Hearing
Binoy Kampmark
Adolf, The Donald and History
Robert Koehler
The Great American Awakening
Murray Dobbin
Canadians at Odds With Their Government on Israel
Fariborz Saremi
A Whole New World?
Joyce Nelson
Japan’s Abe, Trump & Illegal Leaks
Christopher Brauchli
Trump 1, Tillerson 0
Yves Engler
Is This Hate Speech?
Dan Bacher
Trump Administration Exempts Three CA Oil Fields From Water Protection Rule at Jerry Brown’s Request
Richard Klin
Solid Gold
Melissa Garriga
Anti-Abortion and Anti-Fascist Movements: More in Common Than Meets the Eye
Thomas Knapp
The Absurd Consequences of a “Right to Privacy”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail