2013/07/24 — The horror of watching George Zimmerman walk free this month pales in comparison to learning that the reasons for his release are racially-motivated—and that your power to change this is vanishing with each new arrest.
The July verdict of Zimmerman sent a shiver of fear down the spine of every black mother, who must now fear the possibility of a murderer walking away free so long as the young victim is black. Nation writer Jessica Valenti confessed her disappointment at the white women on the jury who were unable to climb above the belief that African-American men are generally dangerous.
“When I first heard that the jurors were women, I naïvely hoped they would see this teenage boy shot dead in the street and think of their children. But they weren’t just any women; most were white women,” Valenti wrote. “Women who, like me, have been taught to fear men of color.”
Juror B37, one of the white women serving on the jury, admitted in an interview with CNN anchor Anderson Cooper that she couldn’t see Zimmerman’s victim as an innocent kid.
“I think George Zimmerman is a man whose heart was in the right place, but just got displaced by the vandalism in the neighborhoods, and wanting to catch these people so badly, that he went above and beyond what he really should have done. But I think his heart was in the right place,” the juror said. “It just went terribly wrong.
And there you have it: Juror B37—and her racialized worldview—could not bring herself to acknowledge Martin as merely a 17-year-old kid brandishing a bag of candy. Instead she referenced the victim with the vandals haunting the neighborhood. In the white juror’s view, Zimmerman was not a murderous stalker. He was defending the neighborhood from black garbage like Martin.
NAACP panelist Desmonde Meade said the nation can’t be surprised at the decision of a jury consisting of five white women and one Latina. It was the natural outcome of a jury pool that consists of very few African-Americans.
According to Meade, blacks comprise only 11 percent of the population in Seminole County—the site of Martin’s murder. But making matters worse is the fact that the jury pool consists only of registered voters. That is a serious problem, he said, because one out of every four black men in Florida can’t vote due to a felony record.
When the numbers line up, they are staggering. A total of 5.8 million Americans, nationally, are denied the right to vote because of felony convictions. Florida, by itself, has 2.4 million residents who have been disenfranchised for the same reasons.
“Between 2007 and 2012 Florida went from disenfranchising 900,000 individuals to over 1.5 million. That is a 600,000 increase,” Meade said at a July 15 NAACP panel discussion. “Now the significant part of politics is that prior to 2010, the average individuals who reclaimed their (voting) rights numbered about 48,000 a year. The first year that our current (governor’s) administration came into office, the number of people whose rights were restored was only 52. You’re seeing an expansion in the amount of people being disenfranchised and a drastic reduction in the rights of people whose rights are restored.”
Meade, a former drug user who has since cleaned up and earned a law degree, is one of the many Floridians who will not see the inside of a voting booth anytime soon, despite his community service, revamped lifestyle, and apparent intelligence.
“I’m told now that I’m not a good enough citizen to participate in the one redeeming quality of democracy, but this also impacts our community,” Meade said. “Right now, there are people in Liberty City (Miami) that are getting arrested. Today there are people who went to court, got convicted of a felony, and politically they’re now out of the picture. They have no voice, and neither—now—does their community.”
Despite the public’s common image of felons, a felony actually rarely arises from an act of violence. According to Meade, 70-percent of the individuals who are incarcerated are in prison for non-violent offenses. In Florida, he explained, you can earn yourself a felony conviction for drug possession, driving with a suspended license, disturbing a sea turtle’s egg nest on the beach, or catching a lobster whose tail is too short. You can also get a rap sheet for such inhuman acts as burning a car tire in public, or playing with balloons in the wrong way.
Take, for example, Florida resident Anthony Brasfield, who released a dozen heart-shaped balloons into the sky over Dania Beach while trying to woo his girlfriend, Shaquina Baxter. A Florida trooper saw the display and sprang bravely into action. Not only had Brasfield earned the honor of being an overly romantic twit, but he also got hit with a felony under the Florida Air and Water Pollution Control Act—a pollution violation.
“When it comes to felons, we’re not usually talking about psychopaths,” Meade said.
Lose your vote and you’ve chucked your political voice—a problem endemic to Florida’s minority population, particularly African-Americans. This situation hurts you more than in the courtroom.
A third of the Miami population can’t vote, and a further 10-percent might not show up to vote anyhow, possibly out of indifference or a lingering sense of political surrender. Why, then, would a political leader, who gets to decide how to spend funding, care about kids dying in the street, or concern himself about the quality of your kid’s education?
“Now let’s take it a step further,” Meade told the audience at the 104th NAACP National Convention. “When gun control methods began to be debated, one of the organizations that I’m affiliated with, PICO National, got the clergy together and we descended on the White House and we said ‘you cannot talk about gun violence without talking about urban gun violence.’ And our efforts were initially rebuffed, we were told, because there’s not enough political capital to discuss these issues. Now … couple that with the fact that our beloved president, on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, had the courage to talk about immigration issues and LGBT issues, but he didn’t have the courage to talk about the mass incarceration of African-Americans in the U.S. Let’s be real: We do not have political capital.”
Source: NAACP MS Staff