Why Must We Love Our Enemies?: Blacks vs. George Zimmerman

By Stacey Patton, Ph.D. Trigger Alert! This piece contains dark fantasies of black people (and the...

 photo George-Zimmerman.jpg
By Stacey Patton, Ph.D.

Trigger Alert! This piece contains dark fantasies of black people (and their allies of other races) dishing out the Nat Turner-style justice they would like to see child-killer George Zimmerman endure.

We’ve seen it too many times: in the aftermath of racially-charged shooting deaths of young black people, their grieving parents invariably appear in media interviews holding their emotions in check as they speak of prayer and even the possibility of forgiving the men who unapologetically slaughtered their child.

“The Bible says that you have to forgive and forget, but also the healing process is a long process,” Trayvon Martin’s father said after George Zimmerman’s acquittal.

Jordan Davis’s mother said that her faith “commands” her to forgive Michael Dunn for gunning down her child. “I never imagined that I would be called by God to forgive Michael Dunn,” she said.

Georgia Ferrell, the mother of the ex-FAMU football player who was shot 10 times last September by a Charlotte police officer said, “You caused a great loss to my heart. You took a piece of my heart that never can be put back, but I do forgive you. I truly forgive you and wish you the best with your life and turning it over to God.”

Media pundits have recognized these parents’ ability to forgive as good and noble, as a sign of being spiritually evolved. But the question when it asked over and over again – can you forgive? -- tends to feel dismissive, as though we lack the full range of human emotion, as if our grief is less piercing. Black people’s forgiveness gets cheapened—sometimes even by us.

In response to white folks’ fear of black people arming themselves or “standing their ground” to protect their children, some of our political figures, preachers, and civil rights leaders get on the airwaves to denounce any calls for black folks to take substantive action. President Obama called for “calm reflection,” after Zimmerman’s acquittal. The Sunday sermons that follow the verdicts often proclaim that the victims are “in a better place.” The preachers say that black people need to hold strong to their faith because one great morning we will all be redeemed when Jesus comes and takes us to that “sweet-by-and-by.”

I don’t mean to disrespect the grieving parents, their feelings or coping mechanisms, but nobody ever talks about the other side of the story. While we see great deal of public forgiveness from black folks, whether it’s real or feigned, whether it’s a manifestation of shock or if it is a protective mechanism for the survivors—there are lots of us who grapple with forgiveness and may view it as a spiritual weakness. And there are many black folks who harbor thoughts and feelings of revenge.

In 2019, the African-American will be 400-years-old, and in those four long centuries in this country, muting our justifiable anger and masking our grief while publicly forgiving the unforgiveable has been an effective part of the paradigm of our oppression. As far too many of us take spiritual refuge and draw on scriptures from a Bible our oppressors forced upon us, the people who fear and hate us continue to spill our blood in the streets.

For once, I’d like to hear the victim’s relatives grit their teeth, mean mug the camera and say, “I hate that bastard who killed my child!”

Just one time I’d like to hear a black father say, “If I see that mo-fo on the street I’m g’on whoop his natural-born ass.”

It would give me so much life to see the victim’s grandmamma stretch her neck over the microphone and say, “I want that man who killed my grandbaby to rot underneath the jail. And I hope that man gets boinked on the daily by Big Bubba, like the Schillinger Aryans did Peter Schibetta on a pool table in OZ.”

At first, I doubted I would ever get that kind of satisfaction. Interspersed with nonstop updates and opinionating during Zimmerman’s trial, people took to social media to comment on how “dignified” Trayvon Martin’s mother was during her testimony, and how “strong” both of his parents were as they gave their reactions to the press after Zimmerman’s acquittal.

Obviously George Zimmerman isn’t the only knuckleheaded murderer of black children. But both he and Trayvon have become icons of this sick epidemic, and Zimmerman is our modern-day Bull Connor, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant (the men who murdered Emmit Till) all rolled up in one. And now he’s a celebrity for murdering a black child.

Fortunately, there was another side to the conversation. Social media became the place where people like me got to sing another tune. They shared their grief, their rage, and their visions of revenge—thoughts and opinions that we rarely, if ever, see in any media, mainstream or black-owned.

Recently, as we struggled to make sense of the less-than-just verdict in Michael Dunn’s trial for murdering Jordan Davis, we were bombarded with news stories about whether Zimmerman would fight rapper DMX for charity. With both Dunn and Zimmerman’s doughy mugs polluting my Facebook newsfeed, it was only natural for me to survey some of my friends, who come from all racial backgrounds and walks of life, about what they would like to see happen to the Zimmermans of the world.

Some of the revenge fantasies had an educational or consciousness-raising focus:

A newly minted black Ph.D. from the Midwest wrote: “To be honest, I think some of the violent fantasies directed at him are too easy! I would like for him to have to be educated. I would love to have him sit in a yearlong course with Rev. Jeremiah Wright on African American history. I would love for him to finally understand the actual weight of the crime he has committed.”

A white mother of two black adopted children said, “I think that what I'd really love is for [Zimmerman and Dunn] both to have an awakening in which they suddenly see privilege, history, and racism so clearly that they are compelled to change so drastically that they begin to lead the anti-racism movement.”

A lawyer and comedian friend’s first response to the idea of a “Django Unchained” style revenge against Zimmerman was a big fiber-optic laugh. “Bwhahahahahaha.”

And then she tapped out the following: “Well a beat down by DMX was going to be a good start. But then my revenge plans were thwarted. I want George to be admitted to law school, take out six figures’ worth of loans then be denied entry to the bar due to his lack of character, like Stephen Glass. That is a fate worse than death. I think he should live a long life in an all-black neighborhood. Gated community of course.”

A former college president blended education and penal punishment.

“First I would like to make Zimmerman read (if he can) and watch accounts of enslavement and its horrors. Twelve Years a Slave, Roots, Amistad. Have him read Herb Gutman’s “The Black Family From Slavery to Freedom,” and watch the most searing indictments of slavery. This will help him understand "stand your ground" for folks who could not without being lynched. Then I'd like to put him in a small cell with a dozen of the craziest, and largest, black convicted murderers (no need to worry about extra murder charges) and have him pray for the salvation of his body. Keep the guards away for 24 hours. If he can survive, give him a few hours rest and then let's do it again. Like Groundhog Day! I want the last words on his lips to be, “I am sorry Trayvon.’”

Some friends envisioned their revenge fantasies unfolding on movie screens.

A super-successful New York literary agent friend said, “I'd like to find the person that means the most to him –lover, mother, sister –then I'd put them in a hoodie. I'd re-enact the assassination, step by step. Then I'd re-enact the investigation and the trial, and then I'd let the shooter's ass off free. Oh, and then I'd promote the shooter as righteous, god fearing, a real Amurrrican hero/ine. Then I'd give him a gun and let him terminate his life. Too much? I can do the Disney version.”

A professor friend from the Midwest who is raising a son struggled to be witty.

“I'm so numb from all this shit … I have no sense of humor for this that doesn't include all of non-Black America to see a total reversal of roles where Zimmerman walks into a courtroom for his civil case and everyone but his family and friends are Black. But not real Black people, the Black people from his imagination. And everyone not Black lives in terror for their children's lives. They turn their country music down when they see Black people who live carefree, wealthy, fun and fulfilled lives. In my movie there is a total power role reversal long enough for them to be invested in real change.”

A black Ph.D. student at an Ivy League college added a soundtrack and a twist to her fantasy.

“I imagine some rock-and-roll music (contrast to rap--like ‘Play that Funky Music, White Boy!’ by the Average White Band). He gets chased down, but at the end, they really just want to return the wallet he dropped. But he was so scared that he gets hit by a car. Or maybe he gets shot by a "real" white person who was afraid of him because he forgot to wash the grease out of his hair that day and is mistaken for a real Latino.”

“LMBAO,” I wrote back to her. For those that don’t know, that’s short for laughing-my-black-ass-off.”

A black music professor described a fantasy that combined art and violence made for TV that “would involve ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and a firing squad.”

Then there were those that aimed at the “stand your ground” enthusiasts, and the system at large.

An author, filmmaker, and father in Los Angeles wrote, “That bacterium is a symptom rather than a cause. He will self-destruct. What I WOULD want to see is something causing some of the "stand your ground" types to wake the fuck up. In that sense ... hmmm. You could combine the two by having him kill a white man, try the "stand your ground" argument again and watch his former supporters turn on him viciously.”

A white professor and her partner mused: “We need to create hit squads to send messages to those acquitted after Stand Your Ground trials! But seriously---I think his acquittal and now the most recent one, raises the question of "where is justice?" If the government cannot provide it, who will? Should we? It is an eerie and chilling feeling that these extremist racist vigilantes are seemingly in control of the law.”

And there was one white male friend and father of two children that prescribed withdrawing all attention from Zimmerman. He wrote: “I wish that he would be forced to give up his guns and the entire nation ignores him. No interviews, no opportunity to sell paintings, no job interviews. As he’s someone who seeks attention, who took someone’s life without consequence, that now seeks to capitalize, he should be denied any and every opportunity.”

A couple of the fantasies were inspired by the film “Django Unchained.”

A black childhood friend of mine who grew up in Trenton, N.J. wrote, “There’s a scene in the film that has two black men (slaves) bare-knuckle fighting for the sheer amusement of white patrons. They're tussling, virtually naked, on the hardwood floor in front of the white men sipping wine, cheering them on while leering at them as they fight to the death/mortal wounding.

One guy ends with the one slave gouging the eyes and breaking the arm of the other, leaving him a sopping bloody mess of meat on the floor. Swap out the two "negro slaves" and swap in George Zimmerman and his mother instead.”

An Ivy League-educated graphic artist and single mother in Harlem wrote that, “My favorite scene in Django was when he shot that white woman, Ms. Laura, and she flew backwards through the door. Maybe it’s Trayvon’s mom who shoots Zimmerman.”

And several people suggested various forms of torture, often with a neighborhood focus.

A white male professor from New York City said, “I would like to see George Zimmerman walk through the streets of the Bronx with a big sign announcing who he is.”

A Detroit-based journalist, author, mother, grandmother and activist emphasized symbolism. “Let him be stalked and attacked for days by little boys in hoodies and forced to eat Skittles and waterboarded with tea!”

Another friend who is a fiction writer included a bit of etiquette.

“Honestly, I want George to have to live with what he did to Trayvon Martin, write an apology letter to the boy’s parents after he's had one too many drinks, and then blow his damn brains out. But first I want his demons to eat and eat and eat at him until he can't get any sleep, until he starts hearing things late at night and drop 60 pounds.”

A pair of author and blogger mothers in Atlanta were heavy on the get-back:

One wrote, “I want to see him dropped into the heart of the hood...unarmed, not even a phone, and Ray Ray ‘n them can torture him for several days .... go all Huck (from ‘Scandal’) on him. But it has to be drawn out over a long period to maximize pain and suffering.”

And the other took it a step further.

“I want some of that straight medieval justice on that ass: bury him to his neck in dark brown dirt and let a bunch of hooded brothers play a boisterous game of soccer around him, in the hot fucking sun, with no water. Then tie his ass up to a tree overnight in the swamplands of Florida in the hot-ass summertime, let them skeeters get that ass, then let the noonday sun toast him up real good. Then make him tie his own noose and pull along his own chair to a nice, tall, strong fucking oak, and let the Morehouse Men's Choir sing Negro spirituals as he repeatedly lunges himself just short of dying, only to have to do it again. Oh, I have a sick, twisted mind for fuckers like him, believe that.”

“ROFLMBAO,” I wrote to her. That’s rolling-on-the-floor-and-laughing-my-black-ass-off, for those of you who don’t know.

And one wished Zimmerman a combination of recognition and empathy. 

“I'd like him to live everyday for a long, long time with every person he comes across knowing he murdered a kid in cold blood. Every time he goes to a diner or the beach or the movie or to get a job, I want him to feel the chills that 17 year old he shot in cold blood felt.”

Now let me say this—my friends aren’t violent in any way, but I feel there is a place for these fantasies, whether they take the high road, or a dark and twisted one. And I know there will be some folks who will predictably try to derail this conversation about righteous anger and frustration over the killings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis by questioning my alleged lack of anger at recent high-profile cases in which innocent whites were killed by blacks. Not to mention black-on-black killings. I’ll let those folks turn to the right-wing pundit machine for that incessant conversation.

My aim here is to say that there is a place for venting, for releasing the unrelenting pain and pressure of grief and anger and frustration that pummel us again and again. Sometimes I worry that being stoic and understanding and forgiving in the face of this nonstop nightmare of violence against our children is sending the message that it’s okay to just pile violence and oppression on us because we’ll just take it and take it again and again. Where is the space for us to be human?

As my childhood friend from Trenton said in sharing his fantasy, “For the record, my honest, honest reflection and exploration is whether or not I feel comfortable with the application of violence in terms of justice or retaliation. Overall, I think not, but dark fantasies are occasionally fun.”

What do all of the above thoughts tell us? Why is black anger (and the anger shared by our allies) and these fantasies a normal part of expressing the full range of our humanity? Why is this healthy? What happens if we keep muting ourselves and masking our grief? What about those who keep spilling our blood?

None of us believe that our vengeful fantasies are going to break the pattern of racist attacks. But moving beyond fantasies as a way to release tensions, we seriously have to ask what can we possibly do to stop these atrocities?

Stacey Patton is a senior enterprise reporter with The Chronicle of Higher Education and holds a Ph.D. in African American history from Rutgers University. She is also the author of That Mean Old Yesterday--A Memoir, and is the creator of www.sparethekids.com.

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