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Saeed Selvam Headshot

Florida Was Complicit in Trayvon Martin's Death

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The truth of the Martin/Zimmerman case is that none of us were physically there at the moment things got heated. But everyone's a critic. If this tragedy has shown us anything, it's that we need action and conversation on race and law, pronto.

I was asked by a friend when the news broke what I thought about the case. My first response was "it would be irresponsible of me to give an opinion on an incident that I wasn't present for." My un-lawyer-esque response was met with a curious gaze to which I replied "well...almost everyone I've seen on either Facebook or Twitter is disgusted with the outcome, the truth is there are few indisputable facts and what really happened that night is known only to Martin and Zimmerman. But I do think anything less than manslaughter would be unjust." The jury in the Zimmerman trial made a decision that they felt comfortable with, they didn't have to be racist, Florida law protected and provoked their decision.

It's easy to veer off into different directions with this case, but the foundation is built on the facts and there are few. Fact one, George Zimmerman pursued Trayvon Martin on foot despite being advised not to by the 9-1-1 operator. Fact two, there was an altercation in which someone can be heard screaming for help. Fact three, Zimmerman, armed with a gun, shot and killed Martin who was unarmed. Fact four, it was dark and rainy.

Fact five, Martin was an African-American male, Zimmerman is a Caucasian-Latino male.

Despite Florida's racially-charged past and present, this case can't be reduced to racial discrimination alone. A lot could have happened that night, maybe Martin reached for something that could have been confused as a weapon, Zimmerman truly felt threatened and in the heat of the moment reached for his firearm. Or maybe, as a majority who've taken to the streets have said, Martin was minding his own business, was pursued unnecessarily and murdered in cold-blood -- armed with only a hoodie, a cellphone and a bag of skittles.

The point is, collective anger and protest needs to be directed against the law, not store windows and not Wal-Mart. President Obama was right when he said that the United States is a "nation of laws," but that doesn't necessarily mean that all of those laws are just. In my last post I spoke in detail about the problems associated with the right to gun possession as there are many. The Martin case is a clear example of everything wrong with gun ownership and Stand Your Ground, it's not a racially discriminatory law per-se but it does leave room for 'interpretation' that can lead to tragic rulings like this which favour the aggressor. But I would hesitate in going so far as to say that this has signalled "open-season on young black males" though. Yes, the case sets an unfortunate precedent; but it doesn't mean that we're going to see a real-life scene out of The Purge anytime soon. The main question at the root of the anger nation-wide is, "was Trayvon Martin killed because he was black?" America is divided between yes and no and only Zimmerman knows the answer for certain.

The conversation on what it means to be black in America is an important and urgent one that needs to be had, not just on Oprah, but on national and state policy levels. This is the second part of the case that many see as being the key race-card. Zimmerman pursued Martin because he looked "suspicious." Why suspicious? Because of the hoodie? The pace he was walking? Because he was black? The words suspect and suspicious associated with the colour of one's skin or choice of clothing should enable us to start openly exploring the culture of stereotypes and stigmas that still exist in 21st-century North America about race and privilege and why they exist. Some would call the Zimmerman-style of profiling racist, but others would say that people who look and dress a certain way are suspicious because they resemble criminals who wear similar clothing and are of the same race. These are actual preconceptions in society that exist, pre-packaged judgements that are cast-out daily just by looking at you. We can't afford to band-aid them by silencing those we disagree with. We need to hear these inherent ideas. Then eliminate them through education.

Let's talk.

I know these are highly-inflammatory conversations, but everything is far from kosher when all we've achieved from years of civil rights advocacy is covert-racism as opposed to the overt-racism of the past. That's not the type of change that Dr. King and so many others fought for. We need to get real with one another here. Change the law and address racism head on so that this tragedy doesn't happen again.

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