Commentary: What is an African American life worth?

Columnist reflects on Trayvon Martin's death, George Zimmerman's statements
Commentary: What is an African American life worth?

By Derrell Connor
Special To Channel 3000

So it was all “God’s plan.”

That was the statement made by George Zimmerman in his interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity this past week. Zimmerman also said he had no regrets about what happened the night he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. Ever since this case hit the national spotlight, I have been very disappointed with how the media has reported it, carelessly manipulating it into a racial lightening rod.

Like most incidents with a racial component, the Martin case has been taken to both extremes. On one side, Zimmerman is a racist who spotted, profiled, followed, confronted and shot Martin only because he was black. On the other, Martin was a thug who was up to no good, who attacked Zimmerman from behind and was trying to kill him before that fatal shot that took Martin’s life.

While I believe that there is a possibility that Martin may have been the aggressor in the confrontation with Zimmerman, there are two depressing thoughts that come to mind. First is the grim reality that the life of an African American is not worth as much as it should be.

Second is the fact that some find it hard to believe that Martin may have been walking home from the store, minding his own business, only to have Zimmerman set this whole sad tale in motion by following Martin.

Zimmerman argues that he was just defending himself. That may be true — after all, none of us were there, and there’s little doubt that a fight took place. But if you were Trayvon Martin, what would you do if a stranger were following you? Would you run away, or would you confront him? If the self defense and stand your ground laws are designed to protect those who are faced with a threat to their lives, then what about a young man who’s being followed by vehicle and later on foot? Shouldn’t you have the right to defend yourself?

Listen, I’m no fool. I’m well aware of the negative stereotypes attached to young black men. I’m also cognizant of the fact that, unfortunately, there are some who are living up to and reinforcing those stereotypes. You can simply pick up a newspaper or watch the local news see it play out live and in living color. I’ve written columns about it, and it pains me to do so. But not all young black men are criminals. In fact, most of them aren’t. Just like the fact that most Caucasians aren’t racists. But the message that we seem to be sending is that when you’re young, male and black, you’re too often considered guilty until proven innocent.

In these situations I often ask people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. What if this tragedy involved a young white victim and an adult black or Hispanic perpetrator, who claimed that he was defending himself because he was attacked? What would be the reaction? I’m not saying Zimmerman is guilty — his trial will determine that.

But would there be a website and donations made to a legal fund? Would Sean Hannity and Barbara Walters clamor for the opportunity to interview him? And yes, I’m aware that folks like Rev. Al Sharpton and others have rushed to Martin’s defense. But remember, Martin is the one who is dead, not Zimmerman. The gun belonged to Zimmerman, not Martin. Which makes Martin the victim in the eyes of many. 

Later in the interview with Hannity, Zimmerman somewhat softened his “God’s will” statement with the admission that he’s sorry the Martin family had to bury their son, and that he prays for them every night. I wish he would completely back off the God’s will attitude as well, because last I checked, I don’t think I’ve ever been taught that it’s God’s will to kill anyone. 

Derrell Connor works in the insurance industry in Madison and hosts a weekly radio show on WIBA AM. His column will run the second and fourth Thursday of the month on Channel 3000.