In the aftermath of his acquittal in the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator whose shooting of Martin sparked a national debate about racial bias and so-called Stand Your Ground laws, has engaged in a series of provocative misadventures. He went rifle shopping. He’s begun a painting career. And on Tuesday night, right before what would have been Trayvon Martin’s 19th birthday, boxing promoter Damon Feldman announced Zimmerman’s latest stunt: he’ll be fighting the rapper DMX, theoretically for charity. (Feldman says the timing was incidental.)
My colleague Judd Legum has one great reason not to spend your pay-per-view dollars on the fight: it’ll almost certainly be a fraud. Feldman has a long record of promoting fake fights, though as Judd explains, “That’s not to say Feldman doesn’t like to promote his fights as genuine in an effort to attract interest. Feldman maintains that he doesn’t fix fights, but in 2011, he pleaded no contest to ‘charges of fixing fights and promoting fights without a license’ and sentenced to two years probation by a Pennsylvania court.” And it’s not clear that Feldman could actually set up a real contest between Zimmerman and DMX in which the blows are real and the outcome uncertain: he’d need a state or tribal commission to sanction the fight, and it’s not clear that any approval is forthcoming.
But I want to raise another issue. Feldman has tried to stir up support for the match on the grounds that it represents a way for Zimmerman’s critics to get some measure of fairness after the courts failed to convict them. “Say he goes and gets his ass kicked isn’t that justice right there?” BuzzFeed reports him saying.
That’s a vision of eye-for-an-eye thinking that to me, at least, doesn’t meaningfully contribute to the actual cause of justice. To me, that would look a lot more like the repeal of Stand Your Ground laws, and changes to a culture that regards black men and women as threatening, even when they’re actually looking for help, as Renisha McBride was when she was shot to death through the door of a suburban Detroit home.
But even if you think turnabout is fair play, the idea that a fight between Zimmerman and a black man represents some sort of cosmic rematch between Zimmerman and Martin ought to be profoundly troubling. Buying into Feldman’s reasoning requires us to accept Zimmerman’s version of the events that ended with him killing Martin: that this was a fight between combatants of equal size, skill, and ill intent that ended in a shooting that was purely an act of self-defense.
If we believe Rachel Jeantel, who was on the phone with Martin when he told her that Zimmerman was following him and that he was uncomfortable, retribution would look very different. But there’s no acceptable cultural form that would involve assigning someone to racially profile George Zimmerman, follow him through his neighborhood, and provoke a confrontation with him. We’d recognize that as despicable. And we should see Feldman’s stunt, with its fig leaf of charity, as similarly grotesque.