I’ve been wonderin’ why
People livin’ in fear of my shade
(Or my hi top fade) —from “Fear of a Black Planet” by Public Enemy
A few days ago, a middle-class Black couple was in Arte De Mexico, an upscale design and furniture store out in the Valley, when they struck up a conversation with another shopper, a sociable White woman. During the course of their exchange, they discovered they each had teenage sons roughly the same age.
They continued to chat away as the woman challenged them to guess her name, and she eventually gave in to reveal it was Zimmerman. This, of course, segued into a discussion about the recent second-degree murder trial, and the stresses of shepherding adolescent boys into adulthood. Their new acquaintance divulged a personal fear of her own, the possibility of her son being victimized while frequenting the customary haunts of youngsters throughout the United States—shopping malls such as the Grove. The menace she specifically feared was African American teenagers who single out their Caucasian peers.
Society’s fear of the Black man is nothing new. Here in the United States it is a tradition that can be traced at least as far back as the antebellum South, but this phobia is by no means the province of the American psyche. Pioneering Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso advanced this notion in the 19th century. He applied it, however, to the inhabitants of the southern part of his native Italy. He proposed that Gypsies, Sicilians, and so on were prone to lapses in morality due to inbreeding with their Arab and North African neighbors across the Mediterranean.
Colonial slave owners in the Western Hemisphere used the belief in the inherent moral inferiority of Blacks as a justification for enforced labor. Throughout the years this mind-set propelled the progression of events like the Civil War, emancipation, Jim Crow and the infamous “Black Code” legislation passed throughout the South. In its aftermath, desegregation, the Civil Rights Era, and so on, a tug of war continued over the extension of the privileges covered in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and other venerated documents upon which this nation is founded. Over and over again, the inherent depravity of the dark-skinned populace was used as a buttress against questions about the morality of slavery.
All this demonstrates that the judicial jockeying witnessed in the George Zimmerman trial and scores of other criminal events was about much more than the actual guilt or innocence of the involved parties.
There isn’t any case that goes through
the criminal justice system that’s
not determined by race.
—High profile criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos
In the past issue of Our Weekly, contributor William Covington noted that a sort of role reversal transpired during the Zimmerman trial. In his article, he stated that “The prosecution became the defense and had to defend the idea that Trayvon Martin was a good kid.”
The oft-told bromide that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty is thus given a new twist: the victim might be at fault because he fit the popular conception of what an offender looks like.