Privilege and Oppression

6 Ways to Forge an (In)Justice System According to the Zimmerman Trial

Photo: Werth Media via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: Werth Media via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I’m just getting back from Philadelphia’s Justice for Trayvon Martin Day of Action, and the rallying cries of the march rang throughout the city.


“No justice….no peace!”

“We are….Trayvon!”

As we walked down Market Street from Love Park, the unified voices echoed off the buildings and reminded all we still seek Justice for Trayvon and all the unacknowledged people who have died due to the entrenchment of white supremacy.

Our shouts mingled with actions across the country and demonstrate the movement for racial justice (and beyond) will continue to grow as long as oppression reigns.

While not surprising, the verdict in the Zimmerman trial reminds us how firmly ingrained racism is within our “justice” system.

So if you’re looking to build a terribly marginalizing system, then the Zimmerman trial is a good place to look for inspiration.

6 ways to continue a legal system perpetuating injustice


While the George Zimmerman trial is just a single example of how our “justice” system upholds white supremacy every day, the case shows that those continuing injustice have some key practices at their disposal.

So here’s how the Zimmerman trial illustrates how to build an (in)justice system.

1. Enact laws to protect the privileged

If you want to keep ensuring those with social benefits from their identity, then the legal system is your ally.

A Texas A&M University study found the “Stand Your Ground” laws had a clear racial bias and showed whites are 354% more likely to be found “justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person.”

One of the clearest summaries of this trend, came right after the decision in the trial. On Twitter @jsmooth995 tweeted “The fundamental danger of an acquittal is not more riots, it is more George Zimmermans.”

Now the law has sided with this extreme abuse of power and hidden racist antagonism as “self-defense”

2. When you can’t be openly racist, remember you can still use “dog whistles”

Zimmerman’s defense team, from the trial’s opening, made sure the narrative focused squarely on Martin as the aggressor and Zimmerman as the “victim.”

By attacking Martin’s character and saying he planned on attacking (e.g. by saying he “armed himself with concrete”), the defense team made sure to find ways to keep the image of the “violent, black male” as the dominant one for the jurors.

But obviously the prosecution team could expose the apparent racism right?

3. Enshrine “colorblindness” into the system

After the judge decided the prosecution couldn’t use race as a factor in the case, it left key (or “the key”) elements out of the argument for Zimmerman’s guilt.

As soon as you say race is a “non-issue,” then you automatically know there’s an issue.

The judge’s decision is part of a larger trend, even extending to the Supreme Court, of disregarding issues of blatant racism.

4. Keep making things easier for those with wealth

While Zimmerman was not rich himself, the hundreds of thousands donated to him helped make up for part of this difference.

This shows that if you have the power of racist laws and some financial backing, then its going be much easier for you to succeed whether you are on the defense or the prosecution.

5. Rest easy knowing it’s more than a few people upholding white supremacy

While having a near all-white jury certainly helped protect the racist “Stand Your Ground” laws in this one case, as long as the dominant institutions, cultures, media, etc. remain so too will the ideology of white supremacy remain.

As the first point I wrote about, these and other laws keep protecting the privileged and disregard any facts that could expose whiteness.

6. Smooth over complex dynamics and ignore the realities of institutionalized privilege

Trayvon Martin is a symbol of what happens for many communities of color, that just by walking around near a predominantly white community you are immediately viewed as “suspicious.”

By glossing over Zimmerman’s aggressive attitude to take matters into his own hands and ignore the 9-1-1 dispatcher (who said he shouldn’t follow Trayvon), the role of “macho” culture remained hidden.

These are challenging discussions, but by not even having them presented in the case, their hidden role continues.

Exposing the (in)justice system

Judith Browne Dianis, Co-Director of the Advancement Project, reminds us that we must continue to expose this system based on racism and fear, but at the same time we must honor Trayvon’s life.

She also highlights the grassroots events happening across the country propelling forward a movement for racial justice that should “continue on until each and every young man of color in America can walk the streets in any of our nation’s neighborhoods unafraid, knowing not only that he is safe, but that his country walks beside him.”

In Philadelphia and across the country, the marches demonstrate this commitment.

Follow Judith Browne Dianis on Twitter to keep up-to-date with her calls for racial justice.

By Drew Serres

Drew Serres began working on Organizing Change to combine his dedication to showing impactful organizing practices with his passion for learning. Find out more about him at the About Page and see his updates on Twitter and Google+