Zimmerman’s lawyers used racist stereotypes to justify fear — and killing — of black men

Zimmerman’s lawyers used racist stereotypes to justify fear — and killing — of black men

There was a small, crystalline window of time, as I sat waiting for the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, when it felt as though we were perched between two worlds of possibility. As I watched the media blare, there was a breathless, swooping, nearly operatic transport to the moment; pundits recapitulated all the reasons to be afraid, very afraid. Anticipating acquittal, they eagerly imagined crescendos of erupting terror, riot and civil collapse. Florida was under lockdown. Magical legions of hydra-headed Trayvon Martin–shaped “thug wannabes” were assembling at the edges of the badlands.

In this still-undecided, Schrödinger’s cat box of suspense, a lonely, against-the-odds voice inside me wondered what might happen if the jury were to find George Zimmerman guilty. Would the pundits and politicians fear armed uprisings in select white neighborhoods? Would rabid online purveyors of hatred toward Martin and Eric Holder and President Obama be construed as dangerous to public order? There were, after all, those fanatics who wanted to “impeach” or “impale” Judge Debra Nelson, a Republican appointee. An Ohio PAC called the Buckeye Firearms Foundation was raising money to supply Zimmerman “with the funds he needs to replace his firearm, holster, and other gear.” Bestselling novelist Brad Thor would offer to buy Zimmerman “all the ammo he wanted.”

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