In the wake of the verdict in the Trayvon Martin shooting, several teachers said they would invoke mob justice, vigilantism and the idea that Florida law allows people to hunt and kill black kids when discussing the case with their students.
The Hairpin, a prominent liberal women’s blog, asked several teachers, counselors and professors to explain how they would talk about the case — which reached its conclusion last week after George Zimmerman was found innocent of Martin’s murder — in their classrooms.
An anonymous English teacher in Alabama said that she would be hesitant to formally “teach” the subject, but nonetheless thought it could be brought up in relation to vigilantism in literature such as “To Kill A Mockingbird” and the works of William Faulkner.
“The thing is, I see Trayvon Martins everyday,” wrote the teacher. “I worry about young black men and their prospects in a world where a man is able to kill one without being convicted of something. Even if it isn’t as simple as that, kids will see it that way. Rednecks are holding their heads a little higher and tapping the guns on their holsters eager for a stand your ground moment.”
Some have alleged that Zimmerman killed Martin in an act of vigilante-style execution, though the jury ultimately acquitted him based on his self-defense claim. Zimmerman suffered bruises and cuts during the altercation, and said that Martin was on top of him and he feared for his life when he fired his gun.
Nevertheless, another teacher cited the verdict as evidence of the “fact that Florida law allows people to hunt and kill black youth,” and said that it was important to talk about it with students.
“Ultimately, this is such an important and indicative decision that it needs to be addressed,” wrote Abe Cohen, a high school teacher in the Bronx.
Dr. Imani Perry, a Princeton professor who said her two black children cried when they heard Zimmerman had been acquitted — and feared that he was coming to kill them — expressed the view that kids need to be educated about racial inequity in the context of the verdict.
“I believe that if children are guided honestly through the reality of the world in which they live, it will help them build resilience,” wrote Perry.
An anonymous high school counselor in California said he thought teachers should talk to students about Florida law, helping them reach the conclusion that the laws are unjust and need to be changed.
“I think it’d be interesting for students to look at the laws in Florida and see WHY the jury made this decision,” he wrote. “It may be unjust, but WHY was it made? And maybe it’s the law that’s the problem in this case? And what can we do to change that?”
Other teachers did express the view that any in-class discussions of the Martin case should be neutral.
“I’d welcome discussing Trayvon, and I’d do my best to facilitate in a neutral way,” wrote Lindsey Hunter Lopez, a high school English teacher.
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