(The Root) — Let me be clear. I hope George Zimmerman is convicted of murder. I hope so because I think he decided Trayvon Martin was “up to no good” mostly because the Skittle-toting 17-year-old was black, because I think that’s atrocious, because he’s unapologetic and his choice to take an innocent kid’s life caused so many people to suffer.
Like many Americans, I want the man who caused that pain to suffer, too.
Plus, I’d like it if Zimmerman’s fate could send a message to those people who unfairly associate black men and boys with crime and violence and act on it: “You don’t get to do this. ” And I’d also like send a message to those black men and boys themselves: “If someone does this to you, they’ll pay.”
But that’s not going to happen, no matter what the verdict. Because, despite the fact that race is the “elephant in the room,” that it “permeates the case” and that we all agree the facts call for a “dialogue in this nation about racial matters,” none of that is actually at issue in the courtroom drama that’s dominated all the networks, that has armchair attorneys tweeting like their lives depend on it and that’s already the source of speculation about riots inspired by perceived injustice.
This case and the dialogue surrounding it have reminded us of how ubiquitous racism is. They’ve reminded us how harmful (deadly, even) it remains. But, contrary to popular belief, those ugly realities aren’t actually on trial.
Instead, the jury will be asked to consider things like: who was on top when and voice analysis and visibility and hand positioning and what’s a “reasonable” doubt. No one will be asked about whether we want to live in a world where, if you’re black, a hoodie makes you threatening, whether a strange man gets to stalk you because of that and how we should punish one who refuses to listen to a police dispatcher and keep his bigotry confined to his car.
But you wouldn’t know that from all the chatter. To be clear about what this trial is about versus what it feels like it’s about — and to reserve our outrage for the many injustices that take place every day outside the Florida courtroom — it’s worth distinguishing the racial issues stirred up by this story from the ones the jury will actually decide.
So, I asked Kevin Woodson, assistant professor of law at Drexel University’s Earle Mack School of Law, to tackle some of the common narratives that are surfacing about race and justice and explain why they confuse what’s at stake.
How it feels: Zimmerman targeted Trayvon because Trayvon was black. If he walks, it means you can racially profile and get away with murder.