(Article changed on July 14, 2013 at 13:45)
Lynching: "Violent punishment or execution, without due process, for real or alleged crimes."
Today, I stood in Leimert Park listening to the anguish of people working through the idea that they, their children, could be murdered for walking home in a hoodie. I listened to mothers and fathers who had to again live through the unjust deaths of their own children in the faces of Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. People proclaimed that the U.S. is a racist state, built on racism, and that in this racist system White people had no responsibility to see that Black people received justice. Mothers talked about the need to teach their children to walk in the world safely. People spoke of "open season" and "lynching." People debated general strikes, and protests, and organizing, and guns. As one speaker said bluntly, he believes in guns because George Zimmerman believes in guns.
I am ashamed of white people. A handful of us were there, an infinitesimal part of White Los Angeles, most aligning their organizations with the shifting discussions of what to do, what could be done, what options are closed now and which open up in a society where safety is no longer a consideration. Was it that word of the rally hadn't reached the Westside? Hardly--everyone knows that Leimert Park is the meeting point, the heart of Black culture in L.A. Was it fear? Oh, come on--LAPD, where SWAT was born, is on off-the-grid alert, and every white person knows that. Was it that white people don't get it? After all, that's what we've been telling black people since the first slaves were brought to this continent.
Here is the truth. Every white person in the United State knows that in Sanford, Florida today a jury of mostly our peers, certainly not Trayvon's, gave legal affirmation to lynching. We all know what was said in Leimert Park: it is open season on black people. We know that "justice" in the U.S. now means that a black person can not walk safely back to his family after getting a snack at the 7-11 during an NBA All-Star game. We now know that turning and confronting a white stalker gets a black person legally shot at nearly point blank range.
We know that black people will protest, maybe strike, maybe riot, maybe take up arms, and we know that now we can shoot black people with impunity. But we trust that the peace officers, the enforcers of the same system that let George Zimmerman go home that night and tonight, will keep the peace for us by any means necessary. So most white people just don't care. "We" are safe, sorry about what happened to "them," and we hope they can work it out.
Most of us don't care because in our world, if a neighborhood watch captain shoots our child, then our child must have done something criminal to provoke it. We refuse to acknowledge what we have been told time and time again, and once more today by a jury in Florida: being Black is provocation enough. Being Black is criminal. We know that, and it is not our problem.
We see ourselves in Zimmerman. Oh, maybe not the overzealous busybody, but maybe as the person looking out for our "hood." Maybe not stalking, hunting down black men, but in that moment, when Martin turned and faced Zimmerman in the twilight turned prematurely dark in the rain, maybe then, just maybe, we would have wished for a gun. Some of us sent him money; others of us shook our heads and muttered, "Glad I wasn't in his shoes." Zimmerman acted White, and we get it.
So conservative White pundits urge the police to do whatever they can to preserve our peace, and liberal White pundits tell black people not to reinforce the stereotype of lawless, violent rioters, as if black people should respect the law that set a vigilante free or what white people tell them to do. In 1992, we smelled the smoke and we breathed the ash from the other side of town, and we crept out of our enclaves to help clean up when it was safe for us, with brooms and redevelopment. With today's verdict--Zimmerman is innocent and therefore Martin is guilty--we know that we won't be bothered with the smoke and ashes again. We are safe.
I am ashamed of White people.
Body of Trayvon Martin by police photo