Two alleged instances of vigilante justice for Trayvon Martin should remind us of what actual justice means.
The aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing took a dispiriting turn this month, with two separate instances of alleged vigilante justice making headlines. The first happened in Mobile, Alabama, when a group of black people critically assaulted a white man who complained about kids playing basketball in front of his house. The victim's sister says she heard one member of the mob say the beating was justice for Trayvon. Then last week, two black teenagers in Oak Park, Illinois were arrested for punching and kicking a white man before robbing him. When he was arrested, one of the kids, Alton Hayes III, told police he picked his victim because he was angry about the Trayvon case.
While the vast majority of the pro-Trayvon activity over the past several weeks has been peaceful and constructive—fundraisers and silent protests, for example—these beatings raise two possible concerns. First, the people who are committing these crimes and then allegedly invoking Trayvon may be doing so as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card, tossing out the dead boy's name as a way of saying, "This really isn't my fault, because if George Zimmerman hadn't killed Trayvon, I wouldn't be doing this." If that's the case, it's depressing how quickly Trayvon's death went from being a tragedy to being a tool (though, sadly, the shooting was already a political tool for many).
The second possibility is that there actually are black people feeling enough anxiety over Trayvon to attack innocent white people. This possibility is far more frightening, especially considering the way America is dividing itself along ethnic lines when it comes to opinions on what really happened the night Trayvon died. More than half of American blacks believe Zimmerman is "definitely guilty" of a crime, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll, while only 11 percent of non-blacks agree. Some, like The New York Times' Charles Blow, are calling this "another O.J. moment." Others are drawing similarities to another famous American trial: that of Rodney King.
In a sick coincidence, Zimmerman killed Trayvon almost exactly 20 years after a jury in Los Angeles acquitted three LAPD officers of charges stemming from beating King. The riots that followed that verdict lasted for days, leaving more than 50 people dead and thousands more injured.
Neo-Nazis are now reportedly "patrolling" the streets in Sanford, Florida, adding another layer of tension to an already-difficult situation. That any black Americans would provide them with justification for their intimidation tactics by senselessly attacking white people is terrifying. That's not justice for Trayvon. In fact, that's adding fuel to the same kind of fear-mongering that led Zimmerman to believe a 17-year-old black boy was a mortal threat in the first place.
If there will be justice for Trayvon, it will be found in a courtroom. And if you really want to honor his memory, the best you can do is extend your hand to those who would harm you and say you forgive them.