Is George Zimmerman the next O.J. Simpson?

I don’t know about you, but if I’d just been acquitted of second-degree murder in a highly-publicized trial, I wouldn’t be out in public causing a ruckus.

But for the third time since he was found not guilty in the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in July, America’s most infamous neighborhood watch captain is again being questioned by the police.

This from a man whose attorneys claim he was so fearful for his life he would probably never live a normal life again. For the record, the word normal shouldn’t be uttered in the same sentence with George Zimmerman.

First Zimmerman is stopped for a traffic violation in Texas a few weeks after he is cleared. He volunteers to police that he has a gun in his glove box. He’s legally allowed to carry the weapon; though the thought of an armed Zimmerman makes we want to say,   “Hide your wife, hide your kids.”

Last week, he was stopped again by police for speeding near his home in Florida.

Today, his soon-to-be ex-wife called 911 to report that Zimmerman punched her father in the nose and threatened to shoot her and her father. Police don’t find a gun on Zimmerman, so he isn’t arrested.   On the 911 call, Shellie Zimmerman tells the operator she is fearful of what her husband may do. She certainly isn’t the first estranged wife to claim her husband is trying to harm her. And this is the same woman who lied to protect her husband while he was awaiting trial. She recently pleaded guilty to perjury and people will question the credibility of her report now that she has filed for divorce.

But the question remains: When will Zimmerman learn?

The George Zimmerman debacle has always reminded me of the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial in 1995. The case was highly publicized — the trial was broadcast on television and watched by millions — and prosecutors never conclusively proved O.J.’s guilt.  Both cases were largely polarized along racial lines with many whites thinking Simpson was guilty.  A good many black people, myself included, thought he was guilty as sin too, but a predominantly black jury acquitted him. Zimmerman was thought by many African-Americans to be guilty of gunning down the teenager he pursued after the police told him not to. Zimmerman argued it was self-defense, yet he was armed with a gun and Trayvon’s only weapon was a pack of Skittles.

Once O.J. got off, he didn’t go away quietly, a fact that enraged the families of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman.

What’s mystifying is why these men didn’t count their blessings and keep a low profile for the rest of their natural lives.

Simpson surfaced with a ridiculous book about how he would have committed the murders, if he had done it. And Zimmerman keeps finding himself on the wrong end of traffic stops and now, a domestic dispute.

If Zimmerman isn’t careful, he’s going to wind up like O.J., serving prison time for an unrelated crime after getting away with murder.


“Today We March”

My friend Rosemary posted this on her Facebook page yesterday. The three words reminded me of something the Rev. Dr. Bernice King said her mother, Coretta Scott King, was fond of saying.  Freedom has to be won anew by every generation.

It’s a powerful thought to ponder in a year where we’ve seen a nagging truth on display in a Florida courtroom in the trial of George Zimmerman. In the end, a jury decided Zimmerman’s right to use his gun in self-defense outweighed Trayvon Martin’s right to walk home from a store in his father’s gated community.  In the same month, a key provision of the Voting Rights Act was repealed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The parallels of 1963 and 2013 are uncanny. Perhaps its why  I can’t sleep this morning. I am in Washington, waiting for the march to commence.  In 1963, leaders called it the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In 2013, the March on Washington is still about jobs and equality. It is also about education.

To be sure, personal responsibility plays a huge role in the outcome of one’s life.  Every man, woman and child must assume that responsibility for their own future.   But when drugs and violence continue to flood our communities, that can’t happen for everyone. When young black men in prison outnumber those in college, that absolutely cannot happen for all people. When efforts to level a playing field that has been woefully lopsided for generations are repealed or marginalized, all people will not realize freedom.

In 2013,  Jim Crow exists in the form of mandatory sentencing laws that result in longer sentences for black men. Jim Crow plays out in attitudes that say a child can’t learn because of the circumstances he or she is born into.

Today, the National Mall will once again be filled with black and white people who believe Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech may one day be reality.  In it, Dr. King envisioned a world where his four children would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Imagine a day when the George Zimmermans of the world would stop and offer the Trayvon Martins of the world an act of good will.  “Hey young man,” George might say. “Can I give you a ride home so you can get out of this rain?”  “Yes Sir,” Trayvon might say in return.  “My father lives right down the block. I appreciate your kindness.”

And since we are dreaming, let’s imagine George getting to know Trayvon and realizing they have more in common than either of them realizes.  Perhaps George will see Trayvon as a human being with loving parents and dreams for his future. A college degree. A wife and children. Grandchildren. A long and happy life.

That’s what Dr. King meant when he said his dream was deeply rooted in the American dream.

So today, 50 years later, we march. For jobs. For freedom. For judgement based on character rather than skin color.

Not guilty: The Ghost of Emmett Till

The killing of Trayvon Martin — and the raw emotion it evoked — has some people recalling the horrifying murder of Emmett Till.

Till was a 14-year-old from Chicago who went south to visit relatives in the summer of 1955 and came home in a casket that his mother left open for all the world to see. Snatched from his bed in the middle of the night, Emmett Till was savagely beaten and shot in the head in Money, Mississippi by evil men acting as judge, jury and lynch mob. His disfigured body was weighted down by a heavy object and dumped into a river. Till’s so-called crime: whistling at a white woman in a store.

Shortly after Saturday’s not guilty verdict, Emmett Till was trending on Twitter. The comparison of Trayvon’s death to that of Emmett Till’s is halting. It speaks volumes about the open wound that has yet to heal in America. What happened to the men accused of Till’s murder can hardly be called a trial. It was a travesty, as were all the trials from that era involving white people killing black people.

On its face, the comparison seems far-fetched. At that time, Klansmen wore hoods and hung black men from trees while their wives and children watched like a Saturday night picture show. 

Today, America is supposed to be past all that. Black folks live where they want, go to school where they want and hold high-ranking corporate jobs. A black man has been elected president, not once but twice. Laws have changed and so have attitudes. But the deep scars of slavery still linger and can be seen in absent fathers and the hopelessly under-employed or unemployed. Our young black men are treated as public enemy number one in their own country. Sadly, America is still polarized along racial, political and economic lines. We rarely talk deeply and constructively about the issues that divide us. People post hateful comments on blogs, cloaking themselves in anonymity. Anger and resentment simmer just beneath the surface.

The not guilty verdict delivered in the George Zimmerman case exposed those emotions in much the same way as Till’s murder did, bringing forth the ghosts of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and countless others murdered before their time by fear and hatred.


“Another not guilty”
By Frank X Walker
Kentucky’s Poet Laureate

This ache
this follow-you-home
grief is heavy
like after birth

clings to everything
like pollen
in the spring

it is suffocating
like thick smoke
in a house on fire
fueled by the myth
of a post racial

this is how Chicago
felt when they spit
Emmett home
in a box

This poem was reprinted here with Frank X Walker’s permission

How we can harness the hurt

For many of us, Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman was personal.

In Trayvon, we saw our sons, grandsons, nephews and cousins. In a 17-year-old boy walking home with a bag of candy and a drink, we saw our hopes and dreams. In Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin’s baby boy, we saw our present and our future.

The jury has issued its verdict. George Zimmerman is free. So too, is Trayvon. God’s will be done; for he is the ultimate judge and jury.

Here’s a question for the rest of us: How do we harness the hurt and anger we feel? How do we turn a tragedy into a triumph?

We can hold our sons close and help them understand that their lives matter. We can insist they stand for justice even when doing so seems next to impossible. We can show the talking heads that when violence darkens our door we can stand in peace.

We can help more of our young men graduate from high school and college. We can teach them that drugs, guns and gangs are not the way. That their grandparents and great-grandparents were beaten and jailed for the freedoms we now enjoy. We can be there for them when society puts them in a box based on their age and race.

We can teach our young men that the content of their character is what matters most.

We can fight racism and racial profiling whenever and wherever we see it.

We can create more jobs. We can mentor a wayward child.

We can love one another. We can pray for peace and healing for Trayvon’s family; and for Zimmerman and his family.

We can remember Trayvon Benjamin Martin and what his death has come to symbolize in “post racial” America.

We can vote for people and laws that are fair and just.

We can breathe again and go on.


Another Mother Speaks

I was on vacation last week and got to catch some of the testimony in the second degree murder trial of George Zimmerman.

Early on Friday I posted my thoughts on the testimony of Sybrina Fulton, who spoke for her 17-year-old son, Trayvon Benjamin Martin. Zimmerman has admitted to shooting and killing Trayvon as he walked home from the store last year in a Florida condominium complex.

In a masterful move by the defense, Gladys Zimmerman was called to the stand to represent her son at the end of the day Friday.

As affirmatively as Sybrina Fulton identified the screams as coming from her son, Gladys Zimmerman said she too was certain the screams were those of her child, George Zimmerman.

Zimmerman’s defense is that he acted in self-defense.

No mother wants to believe their child murdered someone in cold blood.

Regardless of the verdict, two families have been blown to bits.

If Gladys Zimmerman’s son is found not guilty, he will remain guilty in the minds of some and his life will be forever changed.

If Gladys Zimmerman’s son is found guilty, Sybrina Fulton’s son still won’t ever walk through her door again.

There are no winners; only mothers who believe their son’s screams pierced a rainy Florida night just before shots rang out.