By Joshua DuBois
By this point, all Americans know the facts. A teenager, Trayvon Martin, was pursued and killed. The shooter, George Zimmerman, was acquitted, his claim of self-defense validated by a jury. We have lined up to state our views about what should happen next: vocal protesters and advocates (I count myself among them) think that the system failed at critical points and should be corrected, from the “stand your ground” law that empowered Zimmerman to the investigation and prosecution of the case itself. Others are assembling to protect gun rights and the right to self-defense.
In service of these goals, we will march. We will tweet. The Justice Department will investigate, talk radio will opine, and some laws and policies will hopefully, needfully, be changed.
But when it is all over—when the political debates have run their course, when the pundits have moved on—we will still be left with something else. Something harder to describe. A set of noxious gut feelings about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman—and where we all stand on the issue of race.
For black Americans, it will be that sour, aching feeling that someone, in the dark of night—empowered by a weapon, a reason, and relative impunity—can gun us, or our sons, or our husbands, down. It’s that thing my fiancée felt when she looked at me after we watched the verdict, hands held, sitting on the floor of my office. This is an intelligent woman, law-school educated, not overly emotional, and never at a loss for words; but channeling Trayvon’s mother, with a stunned look in her eyes, all she could muster was, “Can they really just kill our kids?”
For many white Americans, it will be a different though related sentiment that will linger. It’s a sentiment that is largely quiet on television and social media—because it would be swiftly condemned—but we must acknowledge that it’s there, that it’s represented in massive numbers across the country, in opinion polls, congressional districts, and, yes, on juries.
It’s a view that has sympathy for the Martin family, but at the end of the day also has sympathy for George Zimmerman: You know, sue me, but a tall, hooded black man that I’ve never seen before in my neighborhood is maybe a little frightening. And I don’t know what happened next between Zimmerman and Trayvon. But if, God forbid, I, or my husband, or my wife, is ever in that situation, I might like the right to … Most would shudder to finish the sentence.