Reactions to the Zimmerman Verdict, Observed by a White Mom

Family Matters on 07.14.13
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Photo: GHR2009/ Creative Commons

Early this morning, I met my ex-husband at a Panera Bread outside New York City to exchange our daughter, Maia, for a visit. Maia and I got there early, and several members of the mostly African American staff stood around the front register buzzing about the Zimmerman verdict. All buzz was negative and along these lines: our kids are in danger even walking in "safe" neighborhoods, white people act one way to your face and then stab you behind close doors, and of course the jury didn't convict, nothing in this country has changed. I stood there wondering at how easily we become divided along racial lines.  

When my ex-husband arrived, he asked what I thought of the verdict. I didn't say much, except that I'd expected the jury would go with manslaughter. As a public defense attorney, he saw the "not guilty" coming, thought reasonable doubt was clear. In the past, we often talked about cases and clients accused of heinous acts. Whenever kids were involved or the defendant seemed like a danger to the community, I wanted them locked up, not set free because of a technicality or masterful defense maneuver. Though I'm clearly not cut out for legal defense, I am grateful there are committed public defenders out there, because the system relies on this balance. This time, we agreed. Zimmerman seemed to be a bad guy, who had done an unspeakable thing, but there were holes in the case. I would not have wanted to sit on that jury.

Later in the day, I visited an Arby's for lunch (yes, two fast food chains in one day). Hovering around the the soft drink machine, I overheard another conversation among a group of African Americans. I felt their sidelong glances, and I flushed. In Panera, when my daughter and I walked into ear shot, the employees hushed to maintain professionalism. In Arby's though, the customers had no such concerns. Frustrated, they probably wanted to be heard. The anger in their voices was palpable, and they actually got louder when I drew closer, saying just when you start to think things have changed, you realize they have not. 

I didn't think it would do any good to weigh in from my vantage as a white mom of a multi-racial brood. But if I were to respond to their conversations or to the verdict, I would simply say that Trayvon Martin's murder scared me too. The story of the creepy neighborhood watchman profiling and then shooting an unarmed teen, who could have been our son, makes me sick, for Trayvon, for Zimmerman, for their families, for our country. And the idea that Zimmerman is home free feels unfair and un-American. But even that reflects my experience of America.  

I wanted to say, "Don't blame me just because I'm white. I'm not the jury." But really, in a way, I am.

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