Trayvon Martin and Vigilante Justice

Criticism of the New Black Panthers' reward for Zimmerman's arrest reveals a double standard.

Orange County Sheriff's Office; Mario Tama/Getty Images

The tragic death of Trayvon Martin has ignited a firestorm of emotion across the country, in the African-American community and beyond. At the heart of the case are centuries-old ideologies about black masculinity and white fear.

Recently, a group named the New Black Panther Party offered $10,000 to anyone who makes a citizen's arrest of George Zimmerman, the white Hispanic man who admittedly shot the 17-year-old Martin on the night of Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla.

Despite apparent evidence that the Sanford police were negligent in the handling of the case, they appear to be attempting to regain a forfeited moral high ground.

"The city of Sanford does not condone the actions and recommendations of the New Black Panther Party," officials said in a statement (pdf). "Attempts by civilians to take any person into custody may result in criminal charges or unnecessary violence."

This statement offers insight into the death of Martin, the response of the police at the scene and an antiquated, discriminatory mindset that requires addressing now. If the Sanford police had exercised an equally balanced reaction to Zimmerman, as expressed in the statement to the New Black Panthers, Zimmerman would be behind bars today.

How can police sanction vigilante justice in the name of self-defense by Zimmerman against an unarmed child but condemn a response of "perceived" vigilante justice by the New Black Panthers? The double standard inherent in this inequitable response is solely defined by race.

Too often in American society, the very potential for black aggression is immediately met with force and an admonishment to use caution and temperance. But Zimmerman is excused for being rash, unreasonable and violent. How is that acceptable in a supposedly colorblind society? And then upheld by the law-enforcement apparatus?


The Orlando Sentinel reports that the New Black Panther Party's call for a citizen's arrest led law enforcement to consider taking steps to protect Zimmerman and his family. That very consideration is an example of cognitive dissonance. Why are Zimmerman and his family deserving of more protection than a child walking home with Skittles and an iced tea?

Politicians, pundits and community leaders alike have expressed discontent with the methods of the New Black Panthers. Originally their quest was described as a "bounty" on Zimmerman's head. A spokesman for the party has since clarified its intent not to use violence at all but simply to act as responsible citizens.