I remember the days after the Zimmerman not-guilty verdict, when I could not, and to this day, still cannot sort out my thoughts on its conclusion. I believe part of the reason is that I have been bombarded by the opinions of everyone from friends to politicians, talking heads, and co-workers; at this point I believe I have even heard from Elmo on the issue. Just trying to find a quiet place to navigate my own thoughts has been an adventure in and of itself. Nonetheless, it is an exercise that I owe myself — and Trayvon Martin.
Since Trayvon’s case there have been far too many occurrences of what can only be regarded as a disregard for the lives of young black men and women by society. It is easy to simply blame the police, the politicians and the fates. The truth is that these atrocities continued to be carried out because we, yes we, as a society have allowed them to happen. Now, there is Tamir Rice.
In less than 12 seconds from the time a police officer exited his patrol car Tamir went from a child (yes, a child) playing with toy to the latest victim of our, yes our, disregard for innocent black lives. It is so very strange that when instances of blatant crimes against mankind are initiated by anyone of the Anglo persuasion they are considered to have a mental issue or to have acted out of fear for their lives. I wonder was it shot number one or sixteen that that officer fired in the body a young black man (walking away from him) in Chicago did he stop fearing for his life.
One of the first things that I was taught in law school was that the law is not about right or wrong, it is about what is legal and what is not. I always felt that though this may be true, it was cop-out for the law. To me, this interpretation of the law was a cloak [the law] could hide behind any time it did not decide in a manner that was intuitively correct in the matter involved. Now, I am not blaming the law entirely; I actually believe there is plenty of blame to go around. Assigning that blame is not the issue nor should it be. It should be about the lives lost and the society that, in its own way, perpetuated its cause.
An event caught by eye witnesses, on tape and even on video seems to have no bearing to our society. Suddenly it has become politically incorrect to believe our eyes and ears. When does the desperate cry — “I can’t breathe” become a mantra for disbelief? I am not sure if we will ever really know the true sequence of events that occurred that rainy night in Sanford, Florida over a year ago the night that Trayvon was killed. But, we are clear about what happened in the streets of New York, Chicago, and Charleston and in the suburbs of Cleveland. And, we are just as clear on what caused those events to occur.
Somewhere between the March on Selma and the election of our first African American president we took our eye off the prize. Not only black America but white, yellow, brown, green and purple America. We began believing our own press clippings on the “new Day’ in America. We forgot that no matter how righteous and ethical the message, it just does not reach into the deep pockets of our society or the hearts of every American. Though we may have realized that the ‘Dream’ has not yet been realized, too many of us lost the will, could not find the time or did not have the energy to continue the fight toward its realization. This latest verdict on Tamir Rice’s case has made this clear even to the staunchest of us optimistic believers in righteousness and justice for all.
The question of how we as a society should honor the sacrifice of Trayvon and his brethren, of how we should continue to fight against the injustice that caused his death and the minimization of his death, will continue to be a debate. Though we as a society should do so, individually we cannot hide behind this cloak. It is important that we as individuals find our way to give respect to his sacrifice. This we should do regardless of what march or protest we decide to take part in. The change, the fight, the struggle for a right society and world starts with the individual.
As my father used to say, there is a big difference between being found not guilty and being innocent. Until we as a society collectively perpetuate the change we need to see, we can always claim the former as we redefine the latter.
No, we are not all to blame but neither are we all innocent.
Dale S. Johnson is an accomplished author of over 3,000 lyrical compositions, essays, poems and short stories as well as published interviews with the then Senator Barack Obama and Russ Feingold. One of his pieces, The Perfect Wife was featured on the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show, and is included in the Tavis Smiley book, Keeping the Faith, which was awarded the NAACP Image Award for inspirational writing. He has spoken on the importance of developing effective relationships from both a personal and professional basis at major universities in Michigan, Texas, Washington, DC and Indiana. Dale received his Bachelor of Science degree from Purdue University and has completed post graduate work at Purdue and the Chicago Kent School of Law.