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Blue The Nation | April 19, 2014

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The Black George Zimmerman Got Convicted

The Black George Zimmerman Got Convicted
Jonathan Nathan

After a racially charged trial that raised serious questions about the persistent presence of racism both institutional and individual, a middle-aged man was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of a teenager. The verdict elicited joy in some and rage in others. It was December of 2007, and John H. White was going to prison for the death of Dan Cicciaro. White was black. Cicciaro was white.

To call John H. White “the black George Zimmerman” is actually unfair to White, because the circumstances were different. Cicciaro and a group of his friends left a house party with the intention of confronting White’s son, Aaron. It seems there was a rumor going around that Aaron White had threatened to rape a girl Cicciaro and his friends were close to. They arrived at the White home to defend her honor. They screamed racial epithets and threatened to kill Aaron White. The young man awoke his father, telling him, “Some kids are here to kill me.”

John White had grown up in an America still riven by segregation. His grandfather had fled Alabama, fearing he would die at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. As a child, John White had visited the Deep South and had witnessed ugly, brutal racism firsthand. Outside his home, he heard young white man yelling the same things he’d heard down South, all those years ago. He went to the garage and fetched a loaded Beretta. He confronted Cicciaro and his friends.

Depending on who you believe, Cicciaro either slapped the gun away or lunged to grab it from White. The reality is probably that both versions are true to some degree. Fearing that Cicciaro would take his weapon and use it against him and his son, White fired at the boy at point-blank range. Cicciaro was shot in the face. He died.

Just as George Zimmerman should not have followed Trayvon Martin, John White should have simply locked his doors and waited for the police. He chose not to do so, and as a result a young man died. But unlike Zimmerman, White did not invite the situation. It was brought to him. His position is one with which far more Americans should be able to empathize than Zimmerman’s.

But John White was convicted of manslaughter. George Zimmerman was convicted of nothing.

Can there be any doubt that there was a racial element at play in this disparity? Zimmerman was far more in the wrong than was White, and this is obvious enough to anyone willing to view the facts impartially. Both were responsible for the death of a young man. Both should have made different decisions. But Zimmerman pursued his victim. White believed–rightly or wrongly–that he was defending his home from an attack.

But it was the black man who was convicted and the white man who went free.

White’s sentence was eventually commuted, although he himself was not pardoned. He is, in the eyes of the state, a convicted killer. George Zimmerman is not.

Something is wrong.