George Zimmerman and the Storming of the Bastille

Two hundred and twenty-four years ago today, a group of several hundred French peasants marched on the Bastille, the hated monarchical prison of the Ancien Regime, and touched off a Revolution that would prove to the world that no force can stop a dedicated citizenry from changing the very nature of the world.

An all-white jury found George Zimmerman not guilty last night. Last year, Marissa Alexander, a black woman, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot in an attempt to stop her abusive husband from beating her and her children. Both individuals had tried to invoke Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law in relation to their cases. George Zimmerman killed an unarmed minor and will serve no prison time. Marissa Alexander shot a wall and will spend the next two decades behind bars.

A review of “Stand Your Ground” cases by the Tampa Bay Times finds that a defendant’s success rate when invoking the law goes up drastically when the victim is black – 73 percent of defendants who killed a black person faced no penalty, versus 59 percent of those who killed a white person. Over 70 percent of all cases in which the law was invoked resulted in no penalties to the defendant, in part because the law places the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove a negative – that the defendant did not believe themselves to be in life-threatening danger.

The existence and application of these laws is yet another shot at the black community in America; the latest in a long history of attacks that stretches back to Emmett Till and beyond. To be black in America is to be on your guard constantly, to know that your life is worth inherently less, to know that the military, the police, and now even fellow citizens can snatch it from you at will with no consequences. To be black in America is to live in a world that your white neighbors cannot comprehend, nor would they choose to endure it if given the option.

At the rally tonight to protest the Zimmerman verdict, a young woman at one point took the mic. “I am a poor, black, queer, trans woman,” she said, “and I am here to tell you that this is bigger than Trayvon Martin. This is bigger than any one person. This is about a small number of Them screwing all of Us, like they have for centuries.”

At the end of the day, I do believe that the letter of the law makes George Zimmerman, technically, rightfully innocent. This is exactly the problem. When the same set of laws that legalizes Wal-Mart union busting and firing employees for their sexuality and raping drunk women and jailing debtors is applied to white people hunting down and murdering people of color, can anyone say they are truly shocked at this outcome?

If you are angry, good. If you aren’t, if you don’t think this case has anything to do with you, wake up and look around. There is an in-group – primarily rich, straight white men – who are determined to divide, conquer, and oppress out-groups. All of them. And if you aren’t in the Club (and chances are you aren’t) you are in for a lifetime of disappointment, stagnation, fear, and danger. Some out-groups will be more equal than others…but everyone will get screwed.

But today is Bastille Day. And today, more children of color will be born than white children. Today, people will be demonstrating in cities across America for Trayvon Martin. Today, someone who had not been paying attention will read something or see something or be told something that creates a spark. Today, I hope, you will be one of those people. Today, remember the spirit of the vainqueurs de la Bastille and go change the world, because there is nothing that the People cannot do when sufficiently motivated. Only when Stand Your Ground is repealed, only when black youths stop being disproportionately incarcerated, only when women can walk down the street without fear of rape, only when people of all genders and sexualities can live and love in freedom, only when we have created a better America to leave to our children…only then will we have truly rendered justice for Trayvon.

This justice is coming. The only question is, which side of the Bastille walls do you prefer to be on?

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