George Zimmerman’s frivolous story is finally confronted by truth and the courts decide that the enforcement of common sense should precede esoteric laws with tremendous gaps in them. Zimmerman is charged with murder, cuffs are slapped on his wrists, and he is thrown into the same facility as low-level black and brown drug offenders.
This, of course, did not happen. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many people still marching with hoodies on and young people creatively expressing their discontent through the “Do I look Suspicious” campaign. Right?
Completely wrong — at least I would like to think so. To say that the arrest of Zimmerman would solve anything is no different than the assumption that Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden’s captures would solve everything in the Middle East. The issue at hand is hardly about an individual vigilante who shot an innocent 17-year-old black kid and was shielded by embarrassingly lax gun laws. What is really at the heart of the issue are the structures and socio-cultural constructs that support an America rife with racial profiling. Perhaps there would be minimal joy if Zimmerman were to be arrested. But if the protestors are sincere, then the real concerns are ones that precede and transcend this tragedy. So long as society deems it normal for me to be followed around every store I enter, for college security guards to exclusively ID me when I’m walking on campus, or for women to clutch their pearls when I enter the same elevator as them, then the “Do I Look Suspicious” cries have no discrete ending (that is, until people miraculously stop profiling young black men).
The dangers of placing too much focus on Zimmerman’s fate is that people will forget the greater societal issue until the next “policing figure” kills a black man under the pretexts of “reasonable suspicion” and “self-defense.” While some people have warned against turning Trayvon Martin into a symbol, he is most certainly a human being who symbolizes an outdated, yet persistent illness that we suffer from. By all means, if the window was missed when the last man was profiled, then this is certainly an opportunity to turn a mess into a movement.
The Million Man Hoodie March is an opportunity that may have been missed over a thousand times since Emmett Till. If it weren’t a Million Man Hoodie March, it may have been the Million Man Adidas March in the ’80s. The true issue at the heart of it is that whatever young black men wear has been labeled as the quintessential criminal’s attire. Hoodies may not have existed forever, but racial profiling has.
If anything can be applied to this situation from Till’s, it’s that the senseless murder of our most innocent requires a unified and durable response that continues even well after the murderer is brought to justice. Just as the spirit of Till contributed to the fervor of the Civil Rights Movement, so should Martin contribute to the modern, yet awfully familiar, denunciation of profiling and criminalizing black men today. Until black men can walk down the block without feeling and being watched, then Zimmerman’s arrest will fall far short of solace.