I still remember where I was, what I was doing and how I felt when the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin was announced. It seemed so surreal at the time. Before knowing the verdict would be announced, I was scheduled to appear on Fox 5 News in Washington, DC to give an update on the case at 10:00 PM on a Saturday evening. However, before I arrived at the station, the breaking news said a verdict had been reached. As I rushed to Fox 5 studios, I got in chair with mic on and waited for the verdict to be read. Although, I was in the local DC Fox studio, the station aired the Fox News network for the verdict. And I sat stunned, numb and outraged at the same time, but trying to appear expressionless as I heard the not guilty verdict read. And listening to the Fox News commentary while still in studio waiting my turn, I felt a sense of failure on the part of the criminal justice system, once again.
The sense of failure on the part of the justice system to do what is right and fair in cases involving young black males is present whether I hear the George Zimmerman verdict or read the statistics on the number of black men in jail today or under the umbrella of the criminal justice system. Statistics and research show that there are more black men under the criminal justice system in jail or in the criminal justice system today than enslaved in 1850. For many African American males, our criminal justice system is the new slavery system. And for young African American teens, the number who are suspended or arrested while juveniles and committed to a juvenile or adult detention center is astonishing high compared to the same white population. While black teens represent 16% of the youth population, 37% of their cases are moved to criminal court with 58% ending in adult prison.
And there is slow change coming with programs like President Obama’s initiative, My Brother’s Keepers, to help give young boys and men of color the necessary tools to get on and stay on the right path. However, many of the tools and programs fail to address the elephant in the room. Its name is racism. And for many young men and boys of color, who do all the right things, they still may face the injustice of a criminal justice system that should be just and fair with stop and frisks aimed at them for being black and “acting suspicious”, whatever that term means.
And in the year since the George Zimmerman verdict, I have felt the same sense of let down and outrage, at the system each and every day that I go to court and see the hallways and court rooms filled with young black boys, teens and men. I felt those same feelings when the verdict of Michael Dunn was read and the jury once again failed to find a non-black defendant guilty for the murder of a young black teen. Although, a re-trial is scheduled for September, I question why the jury couldn’t get it right the first time. And since the Zimmerman verdict, there are still over 26 states with Stand Your Ground laws that give many persons the legal right to kill like George Zimmerman.
But outrage and apathy will not solve the problem. First, there must be an awareness that a problem exists. Second, there must be solutions to the problem. And solutions cannot just rely on acting blind or indifferent to the real issue. Racism is the elephant in the room. And as Attorney General Eric Holder has said in a speech in 2009 and as recent as July 13, 2014, we are all a nation of cowards until we face and discuss the racism that exists in America. We have not had a meaningful conversation yet. I’m still waiting.