Chicago Youth Talk Trayvon

Teens reflect on the killing and the controversial acquittal of George Zimmerman

Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean

by Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean, July 22, 2013


a similar reaction: “I could not believe that things like that still happened, based on how I grew up, it is unheard of; the profiling like you are going to following a person toward their home, and killing them.. even if the police told you not to follow him?” 

The aspiring neurosurgeon continued, “I thought that [Zimmerman] was going to be guilty, [but] my cousin and I talked about it and there was not enough evidence to find that he was guilty...But the verdict was still shocking. There was disbelief.” Nzinga's confidence in the justice system is not affected because, like President Obama, she believes that the decision was made based on presented and deliberated facts; but to her something is still wrong, “when such actions can be taken to lead to the loss of a life in this way, and the legal outcome can be as it is.”

The home-schooled piano player also sees little differences between Black and White Americans, “There is a difference with hanging out with European homeschoolers and African American friends... I think the difference is mostly the way that we talk....I feel like people in my generation are a lot more open minded about a lot of things, and because there are a lot of people who were open minded more than my parents' generation, and before them, that might be better for society.”

Seventeen-year-old Fred Linnear—affectionately known as "Lil' Fred"—of Englewood “ thought [Zimmerman] would be guilty because he was still pursuing Trayvon even after he was told by the [911 dispatcher] to stop following him.” To Linnear, who was expelled from school in 2012, but is working to continue his education and become a computer engineer, this case has taught him a difficult lesson, as has the killing of Jordan Davis earlier this year. 

“I can't walk around, even go to the park really. A person was killed in [Florida], shot in the gas station, for playing loud music...You never know what a racist White or Hispanic man in Chicago can do, seeing what happened to Trayvon and [Jordan.]”

However, the teen sees little difference between the races: “The same way I feel about a Black person, is the same way I feel about a White person...I think the violence is all wrong, especially the Black-on-Black, and that is not a reason to kill innocent Black people among us, and get away with it.”

Fifteen-year-old Anna Charles, is a 10th grader at the Young Women Leadership Charter School in Bronzeville, Chicago. “In a way I was considering kind of both guilty and not guilty for Zimmerman. We live in a society where someone like Zimmerman would get away with what he did. I was hoping he would be found guilty. I was just surprised that he was not found guilty,” she said.

Zimmerman's verdict has increased Charles' skepticism towards the American justice system: “I feel like [the criminal justice system] is extremely biased. If someone is Black, mostly they will not find justice. If a person is White or of European descent, they find a reason or excuse for why they did what they did, whether mentally or so on, but [if they are] Black or African American it is just that they are criminal, or it is just another Black on Black crime... with no excuse.”

For Charles, who lives just minutes from President Obama's home in Hyde Park, she feels that the killing of Martin and acquittal of Zimmerman is a wake-up call “for Black children of my age, be more aware of the people in society, because racism is still alive and well, even though people say it is not. Be aware of what is going on. At least, unite together, I think if it were not for Trayvon's situation, some children would not get to see that so clearly, and the situation of race would not get heard the way we are discussing it today."

Donnie Harris, a 14-year-old aspiring basketball player and rising high school freshman from Englewood, says the message he has received is very clear:  White people can just try to kill Black people and they get away with it. I do not trust the criminal justice system, at all." He now has a plan for what to do if he's followed by a suspicious person like Zimmerman.

"If I see somebody following me—I don't think Trayvon ran, I think he just stood there at first—I'm a run, and I'm a make some noise.”

Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean is the Executive Director and Founder of Peaceful World Movement, an adjunct professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Governors State University and University at Buffalo Department of Sociology, and CEO of Quality of Life Solutions, Chicago. He is also the author of Pockets of Crime: Broken Windows, Collective Efficacy and the Criminal Point of View.

More great reads from Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean

‘Why Did They Kill My Son?’

by Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean

[ENOUGH] Fathers of Murder Victims Speak

by Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean

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