I come to the story of Trayvon Martin as a stranger. Not that I wasn’t keenly aware of his death and the media sensation around it. Or even that I lacked an opinion. More to the point, I am estranged from the situation because I am a 47-year-old white man from Kentucky. There are things I have gone my whole life without worrying about that black men deal with every day. I do not get followed around in stores. I have no issue hailing a cab. No one clutches their purse when I walk by.
I know none of that.
I also don’t know what it’s like to be walking down the street with candy and sweet tea and to be followed by a belligerent, racist man-child who so needed to feel important as a member of his neighborhood watch, that he patrolled the streets in his car with a gun. Even though his mother is Peruvian and has some African ancestry of her own.
As the brilliant 6-part documentary Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story lays out, the weak nature of George Zimmerman, and his unbridled racism were not the only culprit in this fiasco that lead to Zimmerman’s acquittal for the murder of a young black boy running out for snacks. The laws of Florida and the near-incompetent work of the prosecution played their parts as well.
It was as if they killed the young man twice.
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law is intended to allow a person to deliver deadly force upon another if threatened. However, the law is so poorly written that it basically devolves down to: if there are no witnesses, whoever doesn’t die wins. Because all one must do is say they were afraid for their lives, and the act is almost justified out of hand. Trayvon Martin died. And therefore, not only did he lose his life, he also lost his chance at justice due to a legal definition that leaves no room for nuance or thoughtful consideration around the aspects of an incident.
It’s fair to say that while the prosecution started with a less than spectacular hand, they did everything they could after a solid opening statement to butcher the case. Weak and poorly prepared witnesses. A use of a life-sized doll that was presented in such an asinine manner, it practically made the case for the defense. How in the world could the prosecution demonstrate a version of the fight that lead to Martin’s shooting as Martin being on top and battering Zimmerman? If they were, you know, trying to win? It is one of many times my jaw dropped. They found no way to bring in character witnesses to attest to Martin’s life. To tell who he was as a human being. Not his football coach. Not his aviation teacher. Not the disabled uncle who Trayvon would help to bed. They ceded that entire field to the defense.
It is beyond maddening. Then there is the case of the medical examiner who they called as a witness who was combative not only with the defense, but also the prosecution. Again, he was their witness. He even went as far to say that although no one knew the autopsy of Trayvon Martin better, that he could not remember a single thing about it. “Zero”, he said. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I’d have a hard time believing it.
This is just one of the many injustices the film exposes in the murder of Trayvon Martin and the disastrous case that follows. Obviously, what I’m describing here is a hard watch. And appropriately, it is every bit of that. It must be said though that this is not a documentary that feels stiff and staid in its delivery. The direction (Jennifer Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason) and the editing (Chad Beck, Devin Concannon, Christopher Passig) have real snap. It feels like you are watching a thriller and a tragedy. You know what is coming, but somehow, you still hope for different conclusion. Rest In Power is an artistic rendering, but it’s dynamic nature is not obtrusive in the telling. It is a staggering true crime document. It will take your breath away and at times, drive you to madness.
The prosecution is so outclassed by the defense. Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara is brilliant. Perhaps even an evil genius. He outworked, out-thought and battered the prosecution. Not that they didn’t give the defense plenty of help.
So, we have a bad law and a terrible prosecution. We also have a boy who was black. And this was his real crime. Unforgiveable blackness. The defense makes note of his hoodie, the sway of his walk, the lighter in his pocket, his history of marijuana use. They even called witnesses to the stand who had no other purpose than to be white people from the neighborhood of the incident telling the jury how scary black men are. The jury was made up of five white women and one Hispanic woman. Every potential black juror was dismissed through procedure by the defense.
The whole sorry endeavor was made to order. One more time of many and many to come, the truth was made plain. In the United States of America, it is a far better thing to be born white. At least if you want to walk home at night with Skittles and survive your steps. Anyone should be able to understand this. Black people already know. They don’t need to be told. Some white people do too. Far too many, in fact.
The final episode serves as a postscript. The befuddling statements by Florida State Attorney, Angela Corey. Which were beyond tepid after her prosecution team blew excrement all over the court room. The continual threatening behavior of George Zimmerman – mostly toward women. The ongoing grief, courage and activism of Trayvon Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. The deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castille, Freddy Gray, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, the Charleston church shooting, Charlottesville, and the growth of #BlackLivesMatter. The latter of which may be the only useful result to come from all this. If you can get past the fact that its existence is such a grave necessity. And of course, the election of the race-baiting president, Donald Trump.
Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin story is a document. A testament. A roiling, angry, righteous piece of film that is stranger than fiction and truer than the round shape of the earth. It reminds us that no matter how far we may think we have come since this nation’s original sin of slavery, we have so much further to go. Many white people took offense to the organization and even the term #BlackLivesMatter. Responding with #AllLivesMatter. Because no small number of Caucasians can stand not being included. It is the height of “whataboutism”. I would ask of them to think of it this way. All houses matter too. It’s just that the ones on fire should be addressed first.
It is a shite state of affairs. Ask any black person. They already know. And if you watch Rest In Power, you will know too.