Home News by RegionAnguilla News The American demon called race
George Zimmerman
Dickson Igwe

Socio-Political Commentator – Dickson Igwe

While Caribbean news networks come to terms with the unfortunate results of the Treyvon Martin murder trial, this story asserts that race in the USA is a national dilemma. Race defines American culture and society.

The Trayvon Martin matter is symptomatic of a malevolence that states that the US has arrived at the place where even the prized jury system cannot be trusted to give a non racial, fair, and unbiased verdict.

No longer can it be guaranteed that a jury will be fair and neutral to a black, white, Hispanic, or Asian, if that jury is overwhelmingly made up of members of another race, not of the race of either the defendant or victim.

Circa July 19, 2013, and President Barack Obama’s statement on the Trayvon Martin matter stressed the fact that whites and blacks looked at the trial of George Zimmerman for second degree murder, through a different set of social and historical lenses. The US Leader is right.

Now, this story is not about the culpability of George Zimmerman: of whether or not the Hispanic American was guilty of second degree murder or manslaughter, in the killing of an African American teenager ‘armed with nothing but soda and candy.’

No, it is not about that at all, and terrible as this tragedy was. This article is instead about the social and political environment of the trial: before, during, and after that drama. It is a story about race in contemporary America.

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin. Photo courtesy abcnews.go.com

It is a narrative that strongly states that history, culture, and politics usually precede the rule of law in molding a fair society. Historically, laws came from ancient kings who used them to control populations and empires.

Modern democracy and rule of law, in the timescale of written history, are a very new affair. And a look at the law in various countries will clearly portray that legal systems are frequently the sketch and product of the past social, cultural, and historical narrative of those countries. Without laws however, anarchy will prevail, so law is a good thing.

In the USA, like everywhere else, laws derived from the story of history: the Revolution of the late 1700s, Slavery, the Civil War of the 1860s, Jim Crow, controlling the power of the Robber Barons at the dawn of the 1900s, and Civil Rights of the 1960s.

George Zimmerman

George Zimmerman. Photo courtesy jetmag.com

Interestingly, Slavery and civil rights for blacks is a dominant theme in American history.

In Egypt, the idea of the supremacy of history and politics has been on display. Mass protests by a significant cross section of the Egyptian population saw legality and a new constitution easily thrown away, when popular emotion reared a head.

Street power, an important equation in politics, will undermine any established legal system, especially if the feeling against a status quo is strong enough. That is the power of revolution and mass movement.

This is what is happening in the US in the black population, albeit, not on the Egyptian scale. There is a seething anger in the black soul over this verdict that will not be appeased by rationality and right perspective.

And that is why, when politics rears a head, all the pontificating about the rule of law can easily evaporate: and even look absurd. This is what is happening in the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin saga.

Zimmerman may have believed his acquittal in a southern court of law- a court in which the shadow of race hung over like an invisible quilt- was the end of his problems.

Robert Zimmerman

Robert Zimmerman. Photo courtesy www.nydailynews.com

However, racial politics, and mass movement by blacks, and a significant number of white liberals, will ensure Zimmerman gets very little sleep, for a very long time.

Zimmerman may not be behind bars, but he remains in a virtual prison governed by US racial politics. He faces years of legal and social harassment. And if his ‘’mouthy’’ brother does not zip it, that ‘’talkative showoff’’ will suffer a similar fate.   

Politics is always a factor in law. And all the talk of the evidence pointing to Zimmerman’s lack of culpability in the slaying of an unarmed black teenager is simply ‘hogwash’ to millions of US citizens.

Most blacks, and a significant number of whites in the US, are not as naïve as to think that Trayvon Martin was not tried in the court of racism. This case was underlined by race from the very start.

The institutions of the law in this matter were simply a mask covering up the racial ugliness of the face behind it. This is where the prosecution in the matter got things very wrong.

Yes, one wonders how so called legal experts could have got it so wrong. How could they have allowed the case to go forward with a practically all white jury, knowing the history of racial prejudice in the southern part of the USA? What world are they living in?

Many black lawyers, who supposedly objectively observed the matter on behalf of the ever ubiquitous US media machine, are only now admitting to their own naivety over the matter.

They were flatfooted. Of course, race is the prism through which Americans view each other, and their wider society! Race enters into everything in that most powerful of countries. Why?

That is a social mystery that has not been solved in decades. The most brilliant minds in academia are yet to give a plausible explanation for America’s obsession with colour.

So, to expect a jury of all whites, or all blacks, to be fair and unbiased, is clearly a myth: a stretch.  In today’s USA it cannot happen.

President Obama

President Obama on Trayvon Martin affair. Photo courtesy www.bet.com

In all societies, politics and power sketch the constitutional, legal, and judicial reality. And as many a black lawyer in the USA with mistaken notions of racial fairness in US jurisprudence rudely understands this day, post the Trayvon Martin matter, race in America is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. It influences every aspect of US society.

And the fight at the federal level to bring civil rights charges against Zimmerman is simply part of the continuum of US racial politics. A civil suit will be fully financed and supported by black groups, just as various white groups, including apparently, a white owned multi-billion dollar business patronized by millions of blacks, financed Zimmerman’s defense in his murder of an innocent black teen. Racial hate and racial prejudice in the US is always just below the surface.

Will the US ever get over this racial dilemma? Maybe. When the older generations pass away, and a new demographic emerges that is built on racial crossover, mixed marriage, liberal politics, and a new culture that adopts an overt tolerance.

The US President made the allusion, that his daughter’s generation was better than his own, on matters of race. Yes, race or racial prejudice in the USA is a product of centuries of history, and it will take another century before it disappears altogether.

In the meantime, adapting to the reality of race in the US post Trayvon Martin may well mean a new paradigm in jury selection in America, with the race and racial composition of a jury, a critical factor, in determining whether or not one gets a fair trial.

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Dickson Igwe

Dickson Igwe

Dickson Igwe is an education official in the Virgin Islands. He is also a national sea safety instructor. He writes a national column across media and has authored a story book on the Caribbean: ‘The Adventures of a West Indian Villager’. Dickson is focused on economics articles, and he believes economics holds the answer to the full economic and social development of the Caribbean. He is of both West African and Caribbean heritage. Dickson is married with one son.


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