I’ve spent my adult life working with young black men, from all economic and social backgrounds, arming them with the rules I have learned to navigate the bi-polar United States that we live in. This world is a complicated matrix of social constructs and unjust laws, a matrix my peers and our elders thought we at least understood (though we haven’t mastered). We knew who the enemy was and how to avoid them. We recognized, painfully, that some were going to be casualties, collateral damage, in this struggle. Some would fall victim to the stray bullet in gang related drive by. Some would have their wallet mysteriously confused for a gun by police. That not withstanding, we knew what neighborhoods to tell them to avoid, what colors not to wear, and how to talk to a badge-carrying officer of the law. This complicated matrix was a math equation we taught in our schools, churches, and after school program. But now, just like “The Matrix” (the popular turn of the millennium movie) this equation we thought we had figured out has an Agent Smith. More accurately, an Agent Zimmerman.
You remember Agent Smith? Let me refresh your memory. Opening scene of The Matrix. Trinity is being attacked by a precincts worth of police offers. She doesn’t break a sweat, because she has trained for this moment. Trinity knows this matrix, and has been taught how to navigate it, and swats away her enemies like flies. Until, The Agents came. Its the most important moment in the movie, the instant you realize the power of her most dangerous enemy. You wonder what could possibly scare this seemingly invisible super heroine who had done away with an army of men, each twice her size. Then you realize that these agents defy the rules of The Matrix she is prepared to battle. Of all the gravity defying stunts the Agents could perform the most amazing and life threatening was their ability to inhabit the body of anyone plugged into The Matrix. If they recognized you as the enemy they could flip a switch and do a shape shifter-mind-body possession trick, and become that agent ready to hunt and kill.
This is what is scary about the Zimmerman trial. That no matter what rules and best practices we drill into the heads of our youth (what people to avoid, what words to use with known enemies like gangs, and frenemies like the police) nothing can save you from Agent Zimmerman. A man possessed with the urge to confront, detain and if necessary kill you because you fit a description of the prototypical criminal, and who has impunity to attack because they are protected by law. As Geraldo Rivera stated, of course Zimmerman was acquitted. The women in the jury would have shot Trayvon themselves, because black men had robbed that neighborhood.
We are now no longer in the matrix we thought we were in. We can no longer arm our children with the knowledge necessary to attempt to avoid lethal conflicts. We tell our sons now, that when you are approached by a police officer to cooperate, to turn your music to a less threatening station (smooth jazz or gospel). To keep hands visible because you have a gun in your hands unless proven otherwise. But now, anyone can be inhabited by this virus of being afraid of a young black man, and use it to pursue a black man in “self defense”.
Now there is an Agent Zimmerman among us. A mysterious spirit of fear mixed with aggression that can inhabit any neighbor, giving them the authority to kill our sons because our sons are an imminent threat. Zimmerman stated that black men had been committing burglaries in his community. Trayvon Martin? No, but as the court system has proved, it did not matter. A young black man was a consistent suspect, and that suspicion empowered Agent Zimmerman’s to behave with lethal violence on anyone fitting the most basic description. As much as the prosecution had impugned Trayvon character, it wasn’t his character that Zimmerman had judged because he knew nothing about it. It was his color.
In the matrix the good guys (those detached from the matrix to the point where they could see the game being played and defend themselves from the forces trying to enslave them) had but one recourse against Agent Smith and his cohorts o who could jump from one body to another. Run. They had learned how to look at the complicated numbers and symbols scrolling in front of them, and find ways to both stay alive, and find ways to free others from the system. Agent Zimmerman is our Agent Smith. The variable we have no recourse for, because he doesn’t fit any description we can prepare for. Just like in the movie, anyone plugged into this matrix, and swallowing the stories about the imminent danger the comes with a black mans presence, can act as judge jury and executioner.
As dysfunctional as this system is, we felt like we knew the parameters. For centuries any white man could kill a black man with impunity, maybe only having to compensate his owner. But Dr. King died thinking we had reached an age where at least the government would hold you accountable. I guarantee Trayvon knew the rules. He knew what to do if real police approached him. He had not been trained to deal with faux police like Agent Zimmerman. He tried to run, he tried to hide, he tried to fight, and he lost. But then we all lost, because our Matrix has refused to corral this rogue agent. A spirit freed by the justice system, to inhabit anyone who feels threatened by a young black man fleeing him or her. Agent Zimmerman is a glitch in the Matrix, or maybe more accurately a carefully designed program, we are not prepared for.
16 thoughts on “Agent Zimmerman and the American Matrix”
I think your last comment states it all, ” Maybe more accurately a carefully designed program that we are not ready for.”
“He had not been trained to deal with faux police like Agent Zimmerman.”
Yes, he was. He was a “no limit nigga” trained to “deliver a whoopass” on a “creepy-ass cracka.”
“He tried to run, he tried to hide, he tried to fight, and he lost.”
He was doing great right up to number 3. Unfortunately for Trayvon, that’s assault and Zimmerman was within his rights to defend himself with deadly force. Was Zimmerman looking for a fight? Maybe. Would he have had his fight if Martin hadn’t punched him?
You want to avoid “Agent Zimmerman?” Great. Drop the sense of entitlement and start giving the respect that you think you deserve. Don’t be a thug and get kicked out of your house. Don’t develop a taste for Sizzurp or Lean. Have the common sense to understand that slinking around at night in the rain looks suspicious as hell and that you might be confronted by somebody who has the sense of community that used to be hailed as a virtue.
Being black has nothing to do with it. Wearing a hoodie has nothing to do with it. Being an ignorant, violent thug who assaulted somebody has everything to do with it. It’s not about Zimmerman, it should be about Martin and what black Americans can do to solve their own problems and prevent another Trayvon.
Zimmerman knew none of those “facts” about Trayvon before he stalked him. The only thing he knew was that he was black. He didn’t even know the name of the street corner he was supposedly in charge of watching. There is no proof Trayvon swung first. The only witness saw Zimmerman losing the fight, and as the defense proved, it was because Zimmerman was a bitch who had no skills with his hands. By Zimmerman’s own account, Trayvon was trying to avoid him. When Zimmerman finally caught up to him, it was Trayvon who “stood his ground”.
I do have a sense of entitlement. I am entitled to walk home without being followed and stopped by someone who is not police.
The proof that Trayvon struck first is that Zimmerman’s knuckles showed no signs of having hit anything. Did you follow the trial or is your entire argument based on an assumption that Zimmerman is a racist?
Sure, you’re entitled to walk home. Just make sure you’re walking home–don’t start walking up into people’s yards and looking like you’re casing houses.
When did black opinion flip from “Fuck tha Police” to “only police have authority?” Is the black man still fighting the power or is he now bending over to pick up the soap for it? I’d appreciate your clarifying this so the next time I hear about a Rodney King or a Chad Holley, I know the politically correct reaction.
if you’re going off physical evidence, there is no proof Trayvon did anything. There was none of Zimmerman’s dna on Trayvon’s hand, yet somehow he slammed his head.
You evidently get your black opinion from early 90’s hip-hop. Yes, we are wary of the police, but we know what they look like and what they are capable of. Reread the article. Or actually read the article. Read the evidence in the case. The only witness to Trayvon casing houses is Zimmerman, who lied numerous times to the court. Even if he was, it wasn’t Zimmerman’s job to stop him.
I get my black opinion from blacks. The NWA reference was supposed to be cheeky, but I guess this is a humor-free zone. With that in mind, I’ll be a little more blunt. I’m astonished by the fact that a people a mere five generations from being property would so enthusiastically cry out that they are no longer capable of taking care of themselves.
I read your article. In fact, what brought me here was somebody pointed me to “Read a Book.” I was excited because you were *exactly* the voice I’d been looking for–a black man willing to dare to tell his people that they’re on the wrong path. I was equally disappointed by this article. You do an excellent job of deconstructing a straw man.
I don’t know what your background is. In your opening sentence, you make it sound like you’re debilitatingly scarred by it. You have come to expect violence as a normal part of life. This was the shout I heard in “Read a Book.” You know that this isn’t right, but the flaw in your view appears to be that no matter how much you know that your experience isn’t the desired onw, it sounds like you’ve accepted it as inevitable.
Your understanding of the Zimmerman trial is equally flawed. You identify with Martin. Your world may be filled with similar young men, young men with no father and no guidance, young men who have never been filled with a true spirit of hope—not some Santa Claus wish fulfillment dream, but a path and a plan that shows the result of a series of good choices and hard work. So Martin becomes the archetype of the young black man.
Your analogy using The Matrix is clever and entertaining, but it doesn’t fit the reality of the Zimmerman/Martin conflict. What should be the takeaway is indeed what you say, “That no matter what rules and best practices we drill into the heads of our youth (what people to avoid, what words to use with known enemies like gangs, and frenemies like the police) nothing can save you from Agent Zimmerman.” The flaw in your entire argument is not the existence of people like George Zimmerman, it’s that you have been drilling the wrong rules and best practices.
This is precisely the point that I was trying to make in my first response to your article.
Trayvon Martin was the wrong choice around whom to build an archetype. Granted, there’s so much history and drama in his short life that I can’t be in ownership of all of the facts, but the ones I do have paint a pretty damning picture. It’s amazing how much of Trayvon’s life needs to be discounted or explained away in order to prop up the narrative of his being a young kid simply bringing some candy back to his father’s girlfriend’s house. How many times do you need to turn a blind eye before you have to admin that you’re actually blind?
How much better would it be for the black community to pull back the curtain and expose his wasted life as an example to be learned from? By making this case all about Zimmerman, you are dooming how many more Trayvon Martins?
I’m not going to shed any tears for a dead thug, but I am going to weep for a “culture” that can’t be honest about who he was why he was killed.
You are clueless about me, and the case that i made. you think making “cheeky” comments referring to NWA are appropriate when discussing a black man’s death. You say “You identify with Martin. Your world may be filled with similar young men, young men with no father and no guidance” but he was shot on his way to his fathers house. You have no clue who you are talking about. There are plenty of men with manly advice all around them, that make horrible choices as a young man, who should still be allowed to walk to their father’s house from the store without being shot. George W. Bush, the below average student, coke head and alcoholic omes to mind. You think his twitter persona was who he really was, and/or that Zimmerman was one of his followers on twitter, or his high school guidance counselor, so he knew Trayvon’s past, and the image he tried to project on social media. Zimmerman knew none of that, the way you know nothing of Trayvon, or me. You have made Trayvon into a person he wasn’t, and have wasted my time.
jasoninsd, Zimmerman knew nothing about Trayvon Martin. He didn’t know him personally. When he decided to follow him, he only knew what he looked like. You have not addressed that in your statement. By omission, you acknowledge that you think it was fine for Zimmerman to follow him in the first place. Even the authorities instructed Zimmerman not to leave his vehicle. He had no “authoriy” to detain or confront Trayvon Martin. Also, Florida dismisses both “Self Defense” and ‘Stand Your Ground” if you cause or intiate the confrontation. So by law, if Trayvon Martin was afraid, he had a right to use force to defend himself, not Zimmerman, who caused the entire ordeal. Reading the transcript shows that the judge chose to leave this law out of the jury instructs. They were both free citizens, and Trayvon was not doing anything wrong. This is why Bomani’s article is appropriate. Because your statement’s say, “Because non-blacks believe black people are violent against other black people, ordinary non-black citizens have the right and authority to follow, detain, question and initiate a confrontation with them because of how they look.” That is racism. That is the very definition of bias. A particular tendency, view or inclination, especially one that prevents unprejudiced consideration.
Further information proves that Trayvon Martin was not a thug. But whether he was or was not is irrelevant. When Zimmerman saw him, he didn’t know what he was. H didn’t know anything about his character. He only knew what he looked like. I am not a thug. I am an upstanding, tax paying citizen who has never commited a crime and never been arrested. I wasn’t dressed like a thug (though I do own 3 hoodies and where them on occasion in the winter). I have also been harassed by the police 4 times and felt the results of bigotry more than I can count. None of those people knew me. All those events have one variable in common. I am black. They saw me, and made a judgement before they knew anything about me.
You can say that Zimmerman was charged incorrectly. You can say the prosecution dropped the ball. You can say the judge left out vital jury instructions. You can even support forced propaganda and say the black community has problems (which are inturn, America’s problem. The statistics show that while crime rates of blacks against blacks are at approximately 94%, but those same crime metrics for whites against whites are at 86%, and we are a much smaller population in this country). There are all sorts of things you can say to defedn Zimmerman and shift the blame.
The moment you say it was ok for Zimmerman to follow Trayvon Martin when he was not doing anything wrong, you say it is ok for black males to be profiled because of how they look. That is racist. That is the definition of bias. And it seems to be more important for people to shift balme than to ask themselves, “What can I do to help? What can I do to make a difference? Is there anything about my perspective that adds to the problem? Am I part of the solution?”
But people prove time and time again, as long as you can dehumanize someone, you can treat them as less than human without remorse. Calling Trayvon Martin a “thug” who “didn’t know is father” is easier than caring about the youth in this country and wanting to change attitudes on race. He was none of those things, so the statements are not true, but it doesn’t matter. Labels will always be easier to hate than people.
@Jasoninsd: thats comical. I see plenty of white people walkin or jogging at night wearing hoodies in my neighborhood and have yet to call the police or have yet to see someone “stand their ground” against them.
Getting out of a safe vehicle and engaging in an altercation is preemptive assault, no different from when you were bullied in middle school as soon as they saw you get off the short bus with your “intelligence reducing” foil hat. You remember those wedgie days, hmm?
@ notarapper: Unfortunately, there is no getting through to the brick wall that you have been going back and forth with. He clearly is a bigot, irrespective of individuals, clumping Trayvon into the category of being a “thug” (of which the word came from an east indian name) from a 17 yr old juvenile. If the story was reversed, and some 30-something yr old black man (bcuz if you let him tell it, all we are good for is security joba anyway) were to have shot some white kid in the same manner, it would be a public and private lynching, no different than the likes of the hate spewed on the web pages of “Encyclopedia Dramatica” (Bomani, you should google that shit…). I would call such ignorant white males “rubes” but it seems to light a word…here’s a word for an ignorant person…@Jasoninsd: you, my good sir, epitomize the word Nigger in every definitive facet, and if you think its just a word for black people, you have succeeded in proving my point.
“I guarantee Trayvon knew the rules. ” Apparently, he did not. The rule he missed was the one that says when you are attempting to bludgeon someone to death by smashing their head against the concrete, they might fight back with equally deadly force. The American matrix is easy to understand; here, let me help you: don’t act and look the part of a gangster and you won’t be suspected of being a gangster. If you aren’t suspected of being a gangster, you stand a good chance of not being treated like one.
Zimmerman did not recognize Trayvon as a ganster. He wasn’t wearing colors. He wasn’t carrying a weapon. He was walking home. Trayvon stood his ground. Zimmerman used deadly force because even though Trayvon tried his hardest to avoid him, Zimmerman still pursued him, even though he fights like a bitch. The defense spent a whole day, witness after witness, proving Zimmerman couldn’t fight. Then he should have approach Trayvon, and be surprised when Trayvon “stood his ground”.
I shared your article in an email to Anti-racist Alliance of Central Jersey. As always, I appreciate your work, and I appreciate this unique angle on the Zimmerman verdict. These days have been trying for me too, seeing all of the wide range of emotional responses being put out with less restraint than ever, my own included, is really draining. And exhillerating. I don’t think anyone would have thought a national discussion on racism would have started off any smoother. You were one of the first people I found out about Trayvon Martin from, so thanks for continuing the dedicated work. As for this glitch in the matrix, I know as a white person I can’t fully understand the depth of that feeling. I am learning to listen, though.
I shared this in an email to Anti-racist Alliance of Central Jersey. As always I appreciate your work, and I appreciate this unique angle on the Zimmerman verdict. These days have been trying for me too. Seeing all of the wide range of emotional responses being put out with such little restraint, my own included, has been draining. And exhillerating. I don’t think anyone would have thought a national discussion on racism would have started off any smoother. You are one of the first people I heard about Trayvon Martin from, so thank you for your continued dedicated work. As for this glitch in the matrix, I know as a white person I can’t fully understand the depth of that feeling. I am learning to listen, though.
great analogy — the agent that doesn’t abide by the rules.
When keeping it real goes wrong.