Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

The Zimmerman verdict: Open season on Black youth?

6th August 2013   ·   0 Comments

By J. Kojo Livingston
Contributing Writer

Before George Zimmerman even went to trial for the shooting death of an unarmed Black youth who was doing nothing wrong, it seemed that other white males began to take up a form of vigilantism that involves shooting unarmed Black youths. This is the fallout that many feared would come from the case. Below are some of the more high-profile cases.

In May of last year John Spooner, 75 at the time, shot 13-year-old Darius Simmons to death in broad daylight after confronting and accusing the teen of having burglarized his home in Mil­waukee. Simmons was taking out the trash when Spooner confronted him. He shot Simmons from five feet away, the boy’s mother watching. He is also shown on video pointing the gun at the mother. Spooner was recently found guilty of intentional homicide, primarily because the entire incident was caught on his own security cameras. Had the video evidence not been available, there is no telling how the trial might have gone. In the second phase of the trial Spooner’s attorneys are arguing that he has a mental defect that would not make him responsible for his actions.

Then, in July of 2012 according to authorities in Port St. Joe, Fla., a man charged with a hate crime felt inconvenienced by his arrest because he had “only shot a n*gger.” Walton Henry Butler, 59, was arrested by Gulf County Sheriff’s deputies for shooting 32-year-old Everett Gant, who is black, in the head with a .22-caliber rifle. Butler had referred to children at his apartment complex with racial slurs. Gant was shot between the eyes when he went to Butler’s apartment to confront him over the remarks. Butler allegedly closed his sliding glass door and left Gant bleeding on the ground outside. Grant survived.

Then last Friday morning, July 26, in New Orleans Merritt Landry, a 33 year-old white male, shot unarmed, Black 14-year-old Marshall Coul­ter in the head. Landry has been charged with second-degree murder despite citing the state’s Castle statutes, which are similar to Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws and were used as defense by George Zimmerman. Landry said he feared for his life because the youth was in his front yard.

Stories like this have been cropping up since the killing of Trayvon Martin. The trend has Black mothers and the entire community concerned and on edge.

Senator Gregory Tarver told The Louisiana Weekly “The prosecution did not present the evidence properly. The jury responded to what they did not present. I think he was guilty of killing this young man but the prosecution did not present all the evidence. They did not want to present the evidence. It was very, very clear they did not want to prosecute the case.

I feel Florida’s laws are some of the craziest laws I’ve ever heard of, but white people feel that they can kill Black folks and get away with it. And they’ve been doing that for years and years and walking away from it.”

Asked what should be done about the situation, Tarver responded, “I think we need to have better communications with races, better communication with policemen. I think this whole community to eliminate racism and the attitude of racism.”

Shreveport attorney Mary Jackson was very concerned about the message the decision could send, “As a citizen and as a practicing attorney, I was very disappointed and distraught with the jury’s verdict. I am of the opinion the Stand Your Ground Law needs to be revisited, reviewed and revamped. If not, it may have a negative impact in various communities. We do not want people to take the law into their own hands,” said Jackson.

Activist, businessman Craig Lee said, “They were given incorrect instructions. The problem is people don’t know what ‘beyond reasonable doubt means.’ When they hear the instruction what they are hearing is ‘beyond any and all doubt.’ That’s not the same thing. Reasonable doubt is really not a high burden of proof.”

Lee referenced the Puerto Rican juror, B-29, who said on national television after the trial that Zimmerman had gotten away with murder. “She has no understanding of these legal terms. You have three people who swayed her. She could have easily convicted for manslaughter. Not only do you have a biased jury, in terms of the racial makeup, you have incompetence going on in all of these cases.

“They kept talking about George Zimmerman’s right to defend himself but did not deal with Trayvon Martin’s right to defend himself. The only reason a fight occurred was because Zimmerman pursued him against police orders. Two things that have not been focused on are that that George Zimmerman’s father was a federal judge and his uncle was in law enforcement also. That’s why he was not arrested from the start. The politics of judicial system is major factor. The state was not trying to win it. They did not even prepare their key witness,” said Lee.

Across the nation the controversy continues as more groups call for federal charges to be filed against Zimmerman and for the repeal of Florida’s and other state’s Stand Your Ground Laws. Families and officials are concerned about what could happen if race-based vigilante behavior continues to produce Black deaths. Some Black leaders are quietly calling on the Black community to arm itself, while nationally conservatives are claiming that racial profiling and the killings that may result from it are both justifiable.

This article originally published in the August 5, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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