Edward Pratt: Zimmerman verdict detracts from larger issue  

If you stand still long enough in a crowd, at some point a conversation will break out concerning the not guilty verdict that George Zimmerman received in the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin.

Folks will talk about racial profiling and how horrible the justice system is for African-Americans. A few people dare to say Zimmerman WAS innocent even though they have the right to say it.

In those discussions I hear the constant refrain that black parents are afraid for their sons because of Stand Your Ground (SYG), the offspring of SYG and “the system” that is stacked against African Americans.

Then, at the close of the conversation, many of those same people get in their cars and drive to affluent, low- or no-crime neighborhoods. They see crime on television or read about it.

They talk about the “bad” parts of town they won’t stop to get gas and they warn their children not to go there because of the violence they may encounter.

It’s the part of town that appears on TV news with video of badly wounded or dead young black men. It’s the areas of town where black mothers are shown weeping as they hold pictures of their dead children, killed by other young black men for no better reason than the latest smartphone.

Now, what do I think about the Zimmerman verdict? I’m not a legal scholar, but I think Zimmerman should have been charged with manslaughter rather than second-degree murder. I think manslaughter fits as snug as a hoodie.

Martin was not spoiling for a fight. Zimmerman egged on the confrontation and was emboldened because he had the wimp’s equalizer — a gun. Then in that uh-oh moment when he was losing the fight — that he could have easily avoided — he pulls the gun and kills Martin.

Just seems like manslaughter to me.

In the aftermath of the jury verdict, many people say the legal system has let black people down again. I agree. But “the system is the bogeyman” argument distracts from the larger problem: We are a lot more afraid of, and for, our young black men in our own communities.

That the courts work against the poor and minorities with equal viciousness is not news. We can all cite cases we’ve read about or witnessed where rich, well-connected defendants get off scot-free or get cozy sentencing deals.

I have seen this movie before. When I was a teenager, an unarmed young man in my neighborhood was shot in the back and killed by a law enforcement officer. Nothing happened to the officer. Yes, I was angry.

But now I am angry and want more people to be angry about the carnage in the neighborhoods where I grew up. I shouldn’t fear the streets I once walked carefree at night but now hesitate to drive through after sundown.

I want to see leaders banging the drum loudly and continuously about that. I want to see them at the sides of parents who are burying children caught in the crossfire of gun-toting teenagers.

How to deal with that type of wanton killing is more complicated and not as easily digested as “the system did it to us again.”

I feel for Martin’s family. Their pain is immeasurable. But visit juvenile court or criminal court everyday and listen to the roll call of criminal offenses of young black men and what they did to their victims. I could have been a victim. My son could have been one of those victims.

The Zimmerman verdict was a travesty. But we have much bigger problems that holding up Zimmerman won’t make go away.

Edward Pratt is a former Advocate editor. He is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is epratt1972@yahoo.com.