This Tumblr that went up recently called We Are Not Trayvon Martin is an interesting experiment, a way to talk about the role of race and privilege in this case, and how some of us have the privilege—which should be a right!—of being at least safe from would-be vigilantes deciding to murder us for crimes we’re committing only in their heads. A lot of us out here are angry and upset about George Zimmerman being able to chase down and murder an unarmed young man, and get away with it because he was able to convince a jury that the young man—gasp!—had the temerity to fight back. Anti-racists, I think, have long understood that the cops are a real threat to young black men who can be randomly treated like criminals on the thinnest of excuses, but the possibility that any random white (or white-appearing, anyway) person can, if you’re black, just chase you down and detain you arbitrarily or they now have the legal right to take your life? That’s a cold bath of WTF. This tweet captures exactly what is bothering me so much:
I’ve been thinking about it a lot, because as a woman, being followed by creepy dudes who clearly have bad intentions in their cars while I’m out walking and minding my own business is something I’ve experienced probably a dozen times in my life. Unsurprisingly, Rachel Jeantel—who was on the phone with Martin when Zimmerman began to follow him—had the threat of rape pop into her head and made a crack about it to Martin before telling him to run. A lot of scary things go through your head when this happens to you: You worry that if he catches up to you, he’ll overpower you. You worry that you won’t be able to fight him off. You worry about how violent he intends to get with you.
But you know what I never worried about? That if I defended myself, he would have an excuse to shoot me dead and that cops would shrug it off and not bother to contact my family.
I never worried that if he caught up with me, any hitting or kicking to get away would be used as evidence that he was in his rights to murder me.
That’s because I’m a white woman, and if a man chased me down and shot me dead, a few scratches on his face would probably be seen as evidence that he was really determined to hurt or kill me, not that he was acting in “self-defense”. I have the privilege of people using their basic common sense when it comes to what’s going on when creepy guys start following me. Even sexists have to admit that creepy guys stalking women are up to no good. With that in mind, if anyone ever started to chase me with the intention to restrain me against my will (which is, uh, kidnapping) or do bodily harm to me, I can give into the instinct to protect myself by fighting back without worrying that he now has the “right” to kill me.
I’ve seen a lot of conservatives arguing that Martin should have just surrendered if he didn’t want to die. Surrendered, i.e. allowed someone to arbitrarily just hold him there under threat of violence if he tries to leave (which, again, is kidnapping) because, well, he wanted to. That any random white or white-appearing dude has the apparent right to just randomly tell a young black man that he is no longer allowed to move freely, on pain of death. This is bananas. They wouldn’t say that for a white woman, and they sure as hell wouldn’t say that for a white guy.
I don’t know what else to say about this. I just wish that more people could perform the basic act of putting themselves in Trayvon’s shoes and realizing that Zimmerman just got away with, functionally, offering him the choice between surrender to a crazy man with unclear but definitely dark intentions or death. In the year 2013, in America. And somehow we’ve decided that’s legal.