Heavy Hearted and Sick: Responding to the Verdict of Zimmerman

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Dana-Ain Davis, Associate Professor of Urban Studies at Queens College. She is author of “Battered Black Women and Welfare Reform” and, most recently, co-editor with Cristina Craven of the volume “Feminist Activist Ethnography.” Davis has served as President of the Association of Black Anthropologists and is currently editor of the ABA journal, Transforming Anthropology.


Heavy Hearted and Sick

by Dana Davis

It has been six days since the verdict.  Nothing has changed; I was heavy hearted and sick then, and I continue to be.  I was not surprised at the verdict, but I was glad I did not have a son.  I was sad that I even had the thought. I wrote my friends with boy children and reminded them that they should ask their friends to make a protective circle around their sons to shield them from the atrocities of racism.

It has also been six days since Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville, Florida received a sentence of 20 years because she defended herself against her abusive husband by firing warning shots inside her home at the ceiling to stop him from attacking her.  As a result I must equally remind my friends that they should rely on their friends to make a protective circle around their daughters from the atrocities of racism and sexism.

In the moments just after the verdict of Not Guilty was announced in the case of the State vs. Zimmerman, on Saturday July 13th, and the State vs. Marissa Alexander, I was unable to fall asleep, unable to quell the rage. My mind in a state of excess activity, thinking about what this verdict meant, and what I might do.  Because I stayed up most of the night mourning, I quickly found out that there were protests planned across the country one of which would be in Union Square in New York City.

In the days after Trayvon Martin was killed, I attended the vigil in Union Square, brushing lightly against his mother as she was ushered from the podium to the front of a line forming to lead the march.  So it seemed fitting to go there again; it seemed like a good place to be in the company of others who also felt the same rage.  No explanation for tears, or silence, hugs and handholding would be necessary. I went.  I marched some, but the flame of rage would not die out.

The act of communing was not enough because the questions kept coming.  The kinds of questions you ask when the reality of a situation refuses to settle.  Why didn’t the prosecution interview Trayvon’s father’s girlfriend?  Might she have be a lone white person attesting to Trayvon’s character since he was staying in her apartment? How come no thought to suggest that when one smokes marijuana, as it was claimed he did, that aggression is rarely the behavior that accompanies it?  Why didn’t they question Martin’s parents in a way that would have allowed the public to see that he was the one who was killed, not Zimmerman?  Why didn’t the Prosecution figure out a way to “let” race be part of the inquiry?  Why this?  Why that? Why?  What if?

Enough questions.  A larger picture had to be the focus in order to numb the pain. I called people, I posted on facebook and asked people to consider, What could we do in Trayvon Martin’s honor.

The first thought was to boycott all of Florida.  Why not refuse to purchase any products that come out of Florida.  No Tropicana, no booking flights on AirTran, no visiting Disney. Let’s bring Florida to its economic knees until it changes the Stand Your Ground Law.  This morphed into making Sanford, Florida pay.

Trayvon Martin was killed in Sanford, a 22.96 square mile town, in Seminole County, Florida. According to the Census, about 54,600 people live there; 57% are White, 30% are Black and 20% are Hispanic.[1]  In 2012, the city launched the “Imagine Sanford” initiative, which asks all Sanford residents to get involved in city planning by submitting and voting on improvement ideas via the city’s Imagine Sanford website.

This information became the linchpin in intersectional thinking: How to honor the need to seek justice for the Trayvon Martin’s death by working at a broader level to shift the political pathologies inherent in the redistricting and voting rights issues.  Thus it became easier to transform “Imagine Sanford” into “Imagining Trayvon Still Alive”.  How could that happen?  How do we rearrange the monster that is State rights, which inculcates a far right agenda through massive infusions of money, distorted redistricting; whereby “democracy” is compromised?

As it stands now, redistricting processes can undermine democracy, in ways that simply depletes competition between candidates of different parties.  If there were an independent redistricting body, then maybe there would be a better chance of getting a wider range of ideologically and politically varying candidates, who might be able to undo the insidious state laws such as “Stand Your Ground. “

One way to honor Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander is to redistribute the balance of power that keeps so many powerless and too many dead or incarcerated.  Racial justice is simply too fragile to be left in the hands of a legal system that was never designed to protect Black people.  Redistribution of power, however and massive voter registration and agitation to shift redistricting, is a pragmatic practice that demands our complete attention and will carry us through, when people “tire” of hearing about Trayvon.

Unless communities engage in radical empathy and help out-fund those who see nothing wrong with either verdict, these injustices will happen again and again.  If we continue to allow this statist form of terrorizing; that allows states to uphold “stand your ground” (or not depending on your race and gender), we will have no chance of achieving justice.

[1] http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/12/1263650.html

Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is Project Cataloger at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia, and currently working on a CLIR ‘hidden collections’ grant to describe the museum’s collection of early 20th Century photography. He has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina and a Masters in information science from the University of Tennessee.

8 thoughts on “Heavy Hearted and Sick: Responding to the Verdict of Zimmerman

  1. As an aside, I read “Battered Black Women and Welfare Reform” when I was on the committee for the SANA book prize in 2007. Really excellent book, highly recommended to students of race, gender, violence, and the state.

  2. This had little to do with racism, you know, and everything to do with misread behavioral clues on both sides.

    How could anthropologists help? Well, when South Philly High school had frequent inter racial clashes, the anthropologists reeducated the Asian students to be more sensitive to black culture so they wouldn’t get beaten up so often because their disparaging remarks angered the other students.

    The CDC has quite a few links on how schools and the community can stop the culture of violence. http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pub/YV_ProtectiveFactors.html

  3. I was about to reply to tioedong that “misread behavioral clues” assumes a symmetrical encounter in an asymmetrical situation: white man with gun confronts unarmed black youth. On the other hand, I would like to draw dwp’s attention to the fact that blacks are not the only group with a history of being lynched in the United States. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_massacre_of_1871

    Go back a bit earlier and also note how nasty the response to Irish immigrants was. See

    There is, however, no denying that race riots and lynchings directed at black people have been more common and pervasive in American history or that racist attitudes directly specifically at blacks remains the huge problem that President Obama’s speech describes so eloquently.

  4. An anonymous reader emailed to clarify that the Marissa Alexander sentencing was over a year ago and did not occur at the same time as the Zimmerman verdict as the post implied.

  5. John, a bit confused as to why it is assumed that I don’t already know that Black people are not alone in being lynched such that you felt it was necessary to ‘remind’ me. Don’t really see what in my comment indicated this to you.

    Did appreciate the rest of your observation, about power asymmetries and the continued prevelance of antiblack racism, however.

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