When I heard the not guilty verdict announced live, I was attending a national gathering of one hundred 18-30 year-old Black activists in the Chicago area organized by the Black Youth Project. The reaction of the young people in the room to the news that George Zimmerman would not be held accountable by the nation’s criminal justice system will forever be etched on my memory.
Most were shocked. Angry. Outraged. Disappointed. But their tears, outcries and rage were all accompanied with a clear and unflinching determination that this will not be the last word in the battle for justice for Trayvon Martin.
Their shock and surprised revealed that this was a profound generation-specific moment, a collective emotional response that connected to this generation in the way that the Rodney King beating affected an earlier generation—much like the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X stunned the generation before us.
The verdict didn’t come as a surprise to me. Living as a Black man in America has a strange and steady way of changing your perception of this nation as a refuge of justice. Politicized by America’s attitude toward Black men throughout my entire life, I have never received any social cues from my childhood years into adulthood that this nation values the lives of Black men, or Black life in general.