Zimmerman Free: Verdict Echoes History

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The news is old; the old is news.

All the words, thoughts and feelings have been felt, thought and spoken before in countless eternal days and nights by men and women of ebony skin — about the value of our lives.

Things have changed and yet, they are the same.

Like the pages of an old newspaper shouting out from the winds of time: "EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! ANOTHER BLACK MALE KILLED BY A WHITE. BUT IT WASN'T MURDER BECAUSE ..."

A. He had it coming.

B. He did something to deserve it.

C. It was self-defense.

D. Any answer will do because in the end, it doesn't matter.

Is there anyone keeping track of how often this has happened in America over the past decade? How about the past two centuries?

Feb. 24, 1864 — the Hartford Daily Courant: "Gilbert Palmer, the man who was examined before a Greenwich justice some time since, and fined $7 for killing a colored man, has been re-arrested…"

How much was the life that George Zimmerman took from Trayvon Martin worth?

Less than the nameless dogs that Michael Vick served 19 months for killing.

How many times? How many instances?

The Hartford Daily Courant of July 8, 1886, describes the trial of a "popular white physician" in Charleston, S.C., who shot and killed a "well-to-do colored stable owner."

"The story of the colored witnesses was briefly, that the doctor, having had angry words with Riley … sought him out the next day, found him unarmed, ordered him to retract (or perhaps apologize for) what he had said, and on his refusing to do so deliberately shot him down in front of his own door."

"The doctor's story was that … he was not in the habit of carrying a revolver, but he put one in his pocket the next morning because he thought it likely … that Riley might attack him. He started out to make his professional calls — not hunt up Riley. Riley called him by a vile name, drew a knife and started for him. 'I am satisfied,' said the doctor, 'that if I had not killed Riley, he would have killed me … .'"

The new is old; the old is news.

Said that same Daily Courant story "There is room for fear, however, that to some of the colored people of Charleston — unaccustomed as they are to weigh evidence — this (not guilty) verdict will present the aspect of a miscarriage of justice."

America has progressed as a nation with regards to race. Years past, there was no semblance of justice. Today, we at least get trials, though there is no forgetting that even getting an arrest took action.

So many racial episodes still occur in our daily lives. They don't all end in death or confrontation. Still, the notion that someone can follow another, confront that person, shoot that person and then be free to go just challenges the soul.

We — all of us — are responsible for our actions today. Yet, we are victims of our predecessors. We line up on our respective sides and pull for justice as we see it.

You slide into the shoes of those who once walked this Earth and carry out their thoughts and views, their fears and sentiments. You can't help yourselves. Like salmon that go upstream.

We slide into the shoes of our own predecessors. We feel the glare of suspicion that Martin felt. We can't help feeling it. Like birds that fly South. Like him we may have challenged why we were being followed and felt insulted at being cursed out for no good reason. Like him, we know it could have been any one of us — or someone we loved.

That's why we feel it particularly, the death of a young black teen that none of us heard of before then. It is why we particularly share the pain of his parents.

America's history is riddled with the stories of black males killed. It is our past. It is our present. It is our future.

It shouldn't be that way.

Our lives have value.

Frank Harris III is chairman of the journalism department at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. He can be reached at

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Editorial Poll


Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

Tricia Bishop, the deputy editorial page editor, was a reporter in the business and metro sections covering biotechnology, education and city and federal courts prior to joining the board.

Peter Jensen, former State House reporter and features writer, takes the lead on state government, transportation issues and the environment; he is the board's resident funny man and capital schmooze.

Glenn McNatt, who returned to editorial writing after serving as the newspaper's art critic, keeps an eye on the arts, culture, politics and the law for the editorial board.

City police filming protesters [Poll]

Baltimore police recorded hundreds of people in the city last week peacefully protesting a controversial shooting in Ferguson, Mo., raising questions of how the videos will be used. Police say they're simply documenting an event, but civil rights activists fear the videos could be used to target protesters. Should police have recorded the event?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not sure