"Yes, I think they deserved to die. And I hope they burn in hell."
These are the tortured words spoken in a fictional Mississippi courtroom by Samuel L. Jackson in the 1996 film, "A Time to Kill", based on John Grisham's 1989 novel.
Jackson played Carl Lee Hailey, an African-American father on trial for murdering two white men who brutally raped, beat and hung his 10 year old daughter, Tonya. The child survives the attack and the men are arrested. The story is set in the post-Jim Crow South, where the remnants of racial injustice reign supreme. The father fears the men will walk free, as he remembers a similar case in the Mississippi Delta in which four white teenagers were acquitted after raping a black girl.
Carl Lee buys an M16 rifle, goes to the county courthouse, and opens fire on the two rapists, resulting in their death. The rest of the film explores deep-seated racial hatred in the South and disparities in criminal justice. Prosecutors charge Hailey with murder in the first degree, and ask the Court for capital punishment. No consideration is ever given for the circumstances surrounding the tragic rape of his pre-pubescent daughter.
As Hailey's trial unfolds he admits under oath that he wanted the men to die - all but sealing his fate for a conviction and the death penalty. But his young lawyer, portrayed by Matthew McCounaghey, implores the White jurors to close their eyes and imagine a broken, molested, raped and beaten 10 year-old girl. And then to imagine she's White.
It is this, in true Hollywood form, that helps them to see how horrific the crime was and how human the father's response - though violent - is fully justified. Carl Lee is acquitted and his family reunited, as he stands as a symbol of a strong, protective Black father figure.
It is this lens that I'd like to explore the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent treatment his murderer, George Zimmerman, has received from both the criminal justice system, and a wildly forgiving White American populace. For you see, Hollywood fiction and Jim Crow politics have become 21st Century reality.
For the vast majority of African-Americans, it is impossible to believe that a skinny White teenager, holding Skittles and a can of iced tea, could so invoke fear in a grown man with a gun, that the man feels his only recourse is to shoot-to-kill the child. But is far more difficult to fathom that police and state attorneys would accept the man's version of events, and see the dead White child as the perpetrator. Yet this is the Twilight Zone in which Trayvon Martin's death occurred, and his murderer walks free.
Zimmerman has experienced a privilege unknown to most Americans who commit violent crime, especially if they're Black.
Last week's new bail hearing, in which Zimmerman was released on a $1 million bond, further highlights the imbalance in the scales of justice. Zimmerman has experienced a privilege unknown to most Americans who commit violent crime, especially if they're Black.
First, after murdering Martin and claiming a self-defense immunity under Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' provision, Zimmerman was released on the same night, and allowed to carry the murder weapon with him. Only after 44 days of widespread media attention and civil rights protests was he finally formally charged with a crime. Two weeks later he and his wife lied in open court claiming they had no funds to post bail. His father, Richard Zimmerman, a retired court magistrate, corroborated these lies and Zimmerman was released again on a small bond of $150,000 (for which only $15,000 was required for release). By all standards the presiding Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester was overly generous, considering the severity of the crime. He could have denied bail altogether, as many critics wished he had.
And here it where the absurd meets the unjust.
In the weeks between Zimmerman's arrest and his release on bond, a website was established asking for donations to cover legal expenses for his defense. Thousands rallied to his cause, sending - by some estimates - upwards of $200,000 to $300,000 in two weeks alone. These donations were not given for starving children in a third world country, or a righteous cause like AIDS or cancer research - but rather, for the defense of a man who shot and murdered an innocent child.
What sick, twisted minds give money to such a cause?
Furthermore, state prosecutors monitored calls between Zimmerman and his wife Shellie, only to discover that prior to the initial bond hearing the two had conspired to conceal and transfer the hundreds of thousands of dollars received in their online fundraising effort.
On June 1st, presented with this new evidence, Judge Lester revoked Zimmerman's bail and he was ordered back to prison. Lester determined that it was "apparent" that Zimmerman's wife Shellie had lied under oath and that George "does not properly respect the law or the integrity of the judicial process".
Shellie was arrested, charged with