Beyond Black and White

Perhaps Trayvon Martin did attack his shooter with a punch to the face. Perhaps the witnesses who have attested to such actions speak the truth. Perhaps Zimmerman, a humble neighborhood volunteer, who had committed no prior racially discriminatory offenses, had apt reason to defend himself against the black teenager who has recently become the face of the modern civil rights movement. Regardless, I feel the urge to address another potential interpretation of the actions of George Zimmerman, who now finds himself between a rock and a hard place.

Zimmerman stands accused of committing a race-driven crime even though he has no history of racial prejudice. With a weapon in his hand and a responsibility to protect his community in his heart, the community watchman misinterpreted the situation with Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman made a tragic mistake.

Mistakes, however, are not inherently prejudiced. Accusing Zimmerman of acting with racial bias towards the young black Trayvon Martin is fueling a discussion that has kept our country from moving past the hindering barrier that viewing these types of altercations simply in terms of race erects. Yes, Zimmerman made a mistake, but quite possibly for reasons other than what the public suggests.

A case of white-on-black homicide fits nicely into the history of American bigotry. But it must come to public attention that Zimmerman is in fact a Latino. While the cookie-cutter white-on-black violence story makes a nice headline, it doesn’t fit here. In this case, the violence occurred between two minorities. Turn on the television, and you’ll be hard pressed to hear that bit of news.

But this one piece of information alone does not refute the stance taken by Junius Williams ’14 in his Commentary article last week. Latinos quite frequently are involved in hate crimes or gang oppositions with blacks, especially in the state of Florida. As Williams so aptly puts it, “the nagging stereotype” of black violence could skew almost anyone towards biased prejudice. However, Zimmerman’s domestic situation suggests that he does not harbor these stereotypes.

According to the “San Luis Obispo Tribune,” Zimmerman grew up in a household in Virginia where no discriminatory behavior was present. His family’s former neighbors witnessed a menagerie of skin tones and backgrounds come and go from his former home. Kay Hall, a former neighbor of Zimmerman, stated, “I saw Hispanics, blacks, all kinds of people visiting over there. I don’t think they had any kind of racial problem.”

Without this information, a hate crime would be a justifiable concern. But knowing that Zimmerman was raised to tolerate all groups, how can we continue to ridicule the racially educated man for crimes against a skin tone that he grew up appreciating?

Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist opposing Zimmerman, told the Associated Press, “Any time you have a pattern of engagement based on someone’s having a particular group in mind, that qualifies for hate crime inquiry.” By this logic, how can we inquire into the act of a man without such a pattern being present?

Zimmerman killed a man, and perhaps without proper reason. However, accusing a man of manslaughter is a much different matter than accusing that same man of a hate crime. Does it appear as though Zimmerman committed a crime and should punished for it? At the moment, yes. However, given what we know now, it would be unfair to say that this crime was a hate crime. The entire situation, while indeed tragic, must not be viewed as one driven by the issue of race.

Marc Sevastopoulo is a Junior from New York, NY.