Augusta Thomas, national vice president for women and fair practices for the American Federation of Government Employees based in Washington, D.C., issued the following statement on the acquittal of George Zimmerman on July 19:
I could not remain silent in the face of the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. I also could not simply say that I respect the decision of the jury and move on. I also could not say that this was something that trade unionists should ignore.
Using the pretext of the bizarre law known as “Stand Your Ground,” a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of all charges in connection with the killing of Trayvon Martin. It is important for all of us to understand how outrageous both the law and the decision are. Trayvon Martin was an unarmed 17-year-old who was in his own neighborhood. He was approached by an adult who was armed; an adult, I need to emphasize, whom the police told not to interfere. What happened next is a matter of dispute but what is clear is that Martin was unarmed. He may have objected to George Zimmerman infringing on his right to free movement, but in any case, he ended up dead.
Zimmerman claimed that he was attacked and that his killing of Trayvon Martin represented self-defense. But from any reasonable standpoint this would appear to have been stalking by an adult that led to a death. Where is there self-defense when an armed adult, with no official authority, approaches an unarmed teenager?
Please think about this for a moment. Please think about how you would feel were you a teenager again and an armed adult approached you and told you that you could not walk through your own neighborhood. Who would the aggressor be?
With all due respect to President Obama, this is not about possessing weapons. This is about the value of life. It is specifically about whether the life of a Black youth has any value.
We live in a society where the profiling of people based on race and ethnicity has become commonplace. There is an assumption that young people of color dressed in certain ways are automatically suspect. These assumptions play upon fears and the fears lead to tragedies as we saw in the case of the killing of Trayvon Martin.
I agree with President Obama that this is a time for reflection. But I would suggest that this is not a time for everyone to express how they love one another but to reflect on how an unarmed youth could be blamed for his own death. This is a time to reflect on why an armed adult can claim self-defense when he stalked such a youth. This is a time to reflect on how the depth of racial and ethnic prejudices drives a chasm between people who otherwise share so many of the same complaints, issues and concerns. This is a time to reflect upon who benefits from this chasm.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.