Editor's Note: In an excerpt from an interview with Street Soldiers radio hosts Dr. Joe Marshall and Malcolm Marshall, Oakland-based civil rights attorney John Burris discusses the recent not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin murder case.
Burris is the attorney who represented the family of Oscar Grant, a young African-American man who was killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer early on New Yearâ€™s Day, 2009. In that case, the shooter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
America is racist at its core. I used to doubt this simplistic claim. Today I cannot. The murder of Trayvon Martin demands total, simple, honesty. A jury in Florida failed us. We have not seen a moral failure this grave since a similarly all-white jury in Simi Valley, Calif., in 1992 acquitted the four LAPD officers who beat Rodney King.
Writing in the same year as that ill-fated verdict, the distinguished civil rights lawyer Derrick Bell declared that "racism is an integral, permanent and indestructible component of this society." In most circumstances, I treat this declaration as a foil: a claim to be slowly picked apart as, at best, too easy and, at worst, deeply unfair and wrong. Not today.
After the verdicts were read, my eight year old son had seen my anger and asked "why did Zimmerman kill Trayvon?" Thinking of all that I heard, read and saw through the three weeks of trial, I said to him â€œI don't know for sure, but I think because he is racist.â€
The facts that are undisputed are that George Zimmerman profiled, followed and tracked down, shot and killed, 17-year old Trayvon Martin. As the slew of texts, tweets and Facebook messages streamed in from fellow angry friends and colleagues, I sat there furious, disappointed and frustrated.
A jury in Sanford, Florida has found George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. I know I am not alone in my outrage, anger, and heartbreak over this decision. When a teenager's life is taken in cold blood, and there is no accountability for the man who killed him, nothing seems right in the world, but we cannot let these emotions alone rule.
In these most challenging of times, we are called to act. There is work left to be done to achieve justice for Trayvon. The Department of Justice can still address the violation of Trayvon's most fundamental civil right â€” the right to life, and we are urging them to do so.