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UB law expert on black masculinities and critical race legal theory comments on Trayvon Martin verdict

Release Date: July 16, 2013

“There are unjust laws and unjust decisions. They may stand for the moment, because we continue to respect the process.”
Athena Mutua, Floyd H. and Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar, UB Law School

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The acquittal of George Zimmerman for shooting Trayvon Martin is an example of a country stuck in “the album scratch of a failing criminal justice system that both hunts and refuses to protect people of color” and another example of a judicial system that “discriminates against some and privileges others,” says a University at Buffalo Law School professor who has written extensively on law and race.

Athena D. Mutua, the Floyd H. and Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar at the UB Law School, said prosecutors did “a poor job” in allowing the case to be primarily about Trayvon Martin and said the judge made a mistake, “in typical colorblind pretense, in not allowing the government to confront the racial stereotypes and bias inherent in racial profiling.”

Mutua said many have urged Americans to simply respect the rule of law and jury verdict on the Zimmerman case.

“But the Germany of World War II operated under law and the murderers of Emmett Till (a 14-year-old African-American boy who was murdered in Mississippi for making a comment to a white woman) were acquitted by a jury.

“There are unjust laws and unjust decisions.  They may stand for the moment, because we continue to respect the process. But the decision itself is unworthy of our respect and should be challenged. I hope the Justice Department will do as Eric Holder has indicated and investigate Zimmerman for possibly violating Trayvon Martin’s civil rights.

“Further, I have sons,” says Mutua. “Are they not entitled to go to the store in their sweatshirts, buy food and go watch a game without being stalked, accosted and killed by someone who likely thinks all black boys in hoodies look suspicious?  And if they are stalked and thereby threatened, are they not allowed to defend themselves, as Trayvon Martin may have done?  If we agree on this, then the focus turns to the actions of the aggressor.  George Zimmerman, himself armed and dangerous, intentionally and perhaps recklessly put in motion the fateful events of the night he killed Trayvon Martin, and he is responsible for that. 

“Though I think people, including young people, should generally be civil and respectful, I will not countenance, nor will I counsel people of color to teach their children – their young men – to drop their eyes, step off the sidewalk or shuffle in deference to some white person or anybody else who mistakenly thinks he is entitled to decide whether or not they belong in a neighborhood or on the sidewalks of America, as in the days of old.

“This means then, that people of color and other people of conscience will need to come together to change this system and ensure that we do not go back to those days -- even if this jury, the Zimmermans of the world, the state of Florida and even the Supreme Court through a number of its recent decisions, by way of subterfuge and obscurantism – seem committed to taking us there.

“My prayers go out to Trayvon Martin's parents.”

Mutua is available for interviews by contacting Charles Anzalone in the UB Office of Communications at 716-645-4600 or anzalon@buffalo.edu.

Media Contact Information

Charles Anzalone
News Content Manager, Education, EOC, Law, Social Work
Tel: 716-645-4600
anzalon@buffalo.edu