By Paolo von Schirach
July 20, 2013
WASHINGTON – President Obama felt the need to inject his own presidential and personal perspective as an African American male into the Zimmerman trial not guilty verdict. While on the surface this may appear a nuanced, thoughtful interjection, in reality it was most unhelpful. On the face of it, Obama’s impromptu speech appears politically motivated. An African American President felt the need to speak to his own audience in terms they would like, even though doing so required a willful distortions. Please remember that Obama is a lawyer.
Willful misrepresentation of the case
While speaking calmly, President Obama essentially endorsed the totally wrong and misleading narrative whereby a grown up white male with a gun killed an innocent Black teen-ager out of racial spite. Adding insult to injury, the wicked White-dominated justice system let him get away with it, endorsing the fanciful defense thesis whereby Zimmerman acted in self-defense. “Well, come on. How can this be? A grown up White person with a gun feared for his life in a street confrontation with an unarmed Black kid?”
It is “obvious” that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, was on a hunt. Because of his racial prejudice, he was looking for Black suspects. When he saw young Trayvon Martin, he pursued him, triggered a confrontation and then killed him. The absurd Florida “stand your ground” law that permits people who feel endangered to react forcefully, and that includes shooting, provides an ugly cover to yet another case of White on Black violence.
Yes, this is the narrative adopted by most African American leaders. And President Obama, even though he did not openly say that he believes Zimmerman acted out of racial bias, essentially endorsed this totally false version of the story.
Let me back track a moment. To be absolutely clear, I did say well before the trial and after the verdict that this tragedy occurred because the system allows armed amateur detectives like Zimmerman to roam around looking for suspects. I did say and I repeat now that Zimmerman did not belong there. He should not have been patrolling the streets armed with a gun. This is police work. Amateurs not allowed. So, in my judgement this is a real issue; and an issue worth discussing. There is something profoundly wrong with a system that allows almost anybody to act as if they were competent enough to do police work.
The killing was not racially motivated
That said, the long investigation and lengthy trial did not come up with the slightest shred of evidence that Zimmerman, himself half Hispanic, would fit the “red-neck-racist” profile. There is no evidence that he pursued young Trayvon Martin because he was Black. These are the facts of the case. This was a horrible tragedy. A tragedy that could have been avoided, had Zimmerman, a private citizen, stayed at home instead of venturing out looking for suspects. But this killing in no way fits the narrative now endorsed by President Obama.
This was not a racially motivated killing.
There is racial prejudice in America
President Obama is right in reminding America that racial prejudice is still alive and well. And this is an issue that all people of good will should face and focus on. Racial prejudice is still with us; and it is wrong. However, President Obama did not help the needed national reflection on such weighty matters by using the wrong example, the Zimmerman trial and not guilty verdict, to stress this point.
The killing of young Trayvon Martin was and is a tragedy. And the state of Florida, along with all the others that have adopted “stay your ground laws” while allowing amateurs to behave like the police, should take notice.
Zimmerman trial is not illustrative of lingering racism
But President Obama should not have endorsed the wrong narrative that describes this sad event as a racially motivated killing. Nobody denies that racist feelings are alive and well across America. However, linking the Trayvon Martin killing with the long but distant past of segregation and White on Black violence is not at all helpful.
Mercifully, Jim Crow laws and lynchings occurring on a daily basis are way behind us. The President should know this. And instead he used the Trayvon Martin killing as evidence that the entire Black community is still a victim of prejudice and violence, and therefore well within its rights to protest against this unending injustice. This is a self-serving narrative pushed by self-appointed “civil rights leaders“. But it is just not true. To cite just the most obvious fact that contradicts this convenient interpretation of the conditions of Blacks and other minorities in the US, in today’s America most young Black males are killed by other young Black males. Who’s protesting against that? President Obama knows all this. And yet he never properly discussed this sad truth of Black on Black violence.
In addressing the Zimmerman not guilty verdict Obama, himself a lawyer, decided to misrepresent what happened. Regrettably, he willfully manipulated the facts of a real tragedy to say something that would please his political supporters. Perhaps a politically astute move; but not at all presidential.