Martin vs Zimmerman: The American justice system and people of colour

10 Min Read

July 16, 2013 By specialguest

Our twitter chats are back after a week off. Whilst we were away the verdict in the Martin- Zimmerman case came in and is the subject of our twitter conversation this coming Friday. We will especially focus on the views of Africans about this verdict and as usual this conversation has started behind the scenes. Below are some of the opinions and questions of our contributors.

These views are from an African in the United Kingdom

Well, there are various ways of looking at this. On the one hand, it is purely about American justice system and obsession with guns and self defense. In that case, nothing to do with me (us). I can only observe and pass a personal judgement.

But then there is race involved here, which again is nothing new in US though appalling.  Yes, stereotyping black people means any of us, whether resident in the US or simply visiting, could be come a victim.

Given the explosion on twitter among Africans regarding the injustice of this case, the issue I find interesting though in all of this , and probably a theme for future discussion is this:

How much do we feel affiliated to African-Americans? Do they feel the same way towards us? Are they proud to be associated with us? Would they react the same way to a human rights violation in the continent? Are we just too emotional towards the colour thing? Do we need to get closer to each other? Do we want to explore the 400 years of separation? Or do we just leave them to be the Americans they are? Are they the same as Africans in the Diaspora? Why are we interested in this case? Is it out of our disgust at injustice irrespective of the victim’s background? Is it because the victim is black and we feel a sense of solidarity? Is it because, most of us here being black, we could easily fall into the same situation? Is it because it happened in the US? Is it that we can get some African leaders to challenge the US (in)justice system at their next meeting with Obama just as he keeps nagging us about democracy?

Is it that we are all guilty of failing to improve the image of the black (wo)man whether American, African, British etc?

In response to the above another contributor had this to say

Based on experiences of a couple of my peers who schooled in US universities,  african Americans certainly do not see themselves as african and more often than not, students found they were met with much disdain and disrespect, often being called any form of the word “primitive”.

We are a diverse group and this is what  our African American contributor had to say

I think the first line of questions raise important issues, and the description of experiences that some Africans have had with Black Americans are also worth discussing — but I think it is important for me to stress the diversity of views within the African American community. We are certainly not a monolith.

What does the outcome of the Trayvon Martin case say about the regard that the dominant American society has toward lives of Black people?

Does the outcome of this case imply that the US generally values the lives of Black people less than it does of White Americans?

If this is so, what kind of partner can the United States be with African nations? How much can it be trusted as a partner on economic and security matters, if it treats the lives of Americans of African descent as being expendable?

How does one explain the contradiction of the willingness of country to elect a Black man as head-of-state, while simultaneously rolling back protections for the voting rights of Black Americans and acquitting a man who stalked and killed an unarmed Black teenager, even though the police explicitly told him not to do that?

What is one to make of the apparent contradictions currently underway in American society as it seems to be engaged in a tug-of-war with itself between becoming more of a racially inclusive multicultural society, including a large number of recent African immigrants (now fully 8% of the U.S. foreign-born population and 7.8% of the total Black American population) yet also experiencing a wave of reaction and resistance against this trend?

What will be the future of this multicultural project the United States is on? How can it be successful, or is the failure of this project inevitable?

What have been the experiences of Africans (visitors and recent immigrants) in America? What have been their experiences with White Americans? Black Americans? Asian Americans? Latino Americans?

Given the current economic climate in America (budget cuts, stagnating wages, declining middle class, persistently high unemployment rates, etc.) how is economic stress affecting the willingness or ability of Americans to be a more inclusive, global and multicultural society? How does one explain the paradox of increased diversity in the public and private sphere, yet increased polarity in economic opportunities and the growth of the wealth gap?

Some of our contributors lived in America before moving back home and here is a contribution from one of them

I  have been thinking about this case since it started and I feel that race was pulled into the situation….it had to be pulled in because race is still a strong undercurrent in the USA. What if a black man had shot Trayvon….would it have been a race issue? From the beginning of the case I felt that African Americans were out to draw blood and get a death sentence hence the sensationalization of the case including the comparison of the case to terrorism and other issues. My question is….will America ever be free of racism if the African Americans perpetually feel disadvantaged/victimized and Caucasians feel entitled?

And finally one from an African still living in America

This is going to be an interesting discussion — my fall back comparison when it comes to answering weather or not African-Americans, and Africans (colonialism, apartheid, genocide, everyday profiling) in general should react or feel a particular way about racial prejudice or injustice always falls back to using other yardsticks and so the Jewish community comes to mind. We almost never tell the Jewish people to move on and forget the holocaust or to move on from continued anti-semetic actions, profiling, racism etc… why then do people expect them or us to move on and not be a perpetual ‘victim’? We would never suggest to any Jewish person to not be a perpetual ‘victim’, it has almost become taboo or uncouth to suggest so because Jewish people have done a good job in not letting the world forget they are victims, and in doing so they gain a certain level of respect (and reparations). African-Americans continue to be victims of Trayvon type cases, so yes, they are victims as this is not an isolated case…its systematic. African-Americans are victims the same way Jewish people are. The last couple hundred lynchings in the country were against African-Americans by White males).Africans moving in to America face the similar levels of discrimination in the criminal justice system. So, I think its important for Africans to pay attention to this case as it directly affects them. Zimmerman was not going to stop in mid-action with Martin and ask him, “hey, wait a second are you African?”- It will be an interesting discussion!

It is going to be  an interesting discussion indeed. Join us Twitter on Friday 19 July at 7pm BST using #AOTBChat 

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