During the height of the George Zimmerman trial, when media attention was focused heavily on Stand Your Ground Laws and the question of whether or not a white man would be found not guilty of killing an unarmed African-American teenager, the shooting death of 13 month old Georgia infant Antonio Santigio, also made national media headlines. After the mother, Sherry West, told police that her baby was killed by two black teenagers, the right-wing went crazy with this story. Meme’s about the killing could be found on every social media web-site, public page and in every group where the Trayvon Martin story was discussed. Most of these meme’s showed photos of the infant side by side with one of two accused African-American teenagers.
For months, right wingers have levelled accusations of reverse racism against the President, the DOJ and even the media. There have been outcries of disparity against white people because no prominent politicians spoke out about the case, no protests were held, it was not declared a hate crime, the teens weren’t sent to Gitmo to face terrorism charges and especially because the two were not immediately sentenced to execution. To Republicans and racists, the case appeared to be anecdotal proof of everything they believe about black people; that they are scary, they are dangerous -they are baby murdering monsters. The case was repeatedly cited to “prove” that people like George Zimmerman have every right to gun them down black kids, like Trayvon Martin, at will.
In spite of the social media “outrage” and the right-wing media narrative, however, the Baby Santiago case only illustrates just how prevalent racism really is in the United States. Just days after Sherry West told police her 13 month old was shot and killed by two black teens, West’s 21 year old daughter went to police to tell them that she suspected her mother may have killed her infant brother. Ashley Glassey told CBS News in March, that her mother has serious mental health issues. These include a diagnosis of bi-polar with accompanying schizophrenic tendencies. West also talked with the media about how she was removed from her mother’s care at the age of 8, because of abuse and neglect in the home. Immediately after the shooting, Glassey said West began asking questions about how long it would take her to collect the insurance money. West’s daughter also told both media and police that her mother made conflicting statements to her, regarding the child’s death - including different stories about who was shot first. West’s inconsistencies and suspicious behavior caused her own daughter to tell police and reporters that she suspected her mother was not telling the truth about how the infant was killed. CBS News reported several days later that police had not followed up with Glassey, nor had they taken her statement. A follow-up call by the press to the police, was never returned.
On July 16th further evidence was released to the public that implicates the parents involvement in the child’s death. Police tests immediately following the shooting revealed gun powder on the hands of both Sherry West and the baby’s father, Louis Santiago. Santiago claimed that he was nowhere near the scene of the shooting. This evidence too, was withheld for months, until the defense attorney in the case demanded that it be released in mid July.
When we look at the Zimmerman case and the Baby Santiago case side by side, what we see is how racism plays out in the United States. When a white man openly admitted to shooting and killing an unarmed black teenager, the public immediately jumped to his defense. On the other hand, when two black teenagers were accused of shooting and killing a white child, the public immediately cried out for their executions. Zimmerman was guilty, the two teens may very well be innocent, but public perceptions about these two cases shows that what matters most is the skin color of the accused killers.
Evidence in the Baby Santiago case seems to point more and more toward the fact that the two black youth accused of this shooting are innocent of the crime they’ve been blamed for. Yet their pictures have been plastered all over social media, and they’ve been labelled as “baby killers” – a favorite phrase of the right-wing since the day of the shooting. Can we hope that there will be a fair trial for these youth? Can we hope that our justice system will not continue to convict the innocent, while allowing the guilty to go free? Can we hope that the media will report fairly and accurately on this case? Can we hope that the Georgia court system will be fairer and more just than the one in Florida?
And what of Sherry West? If it turns out that a southern white women did in fact kill her own infant in order to collect some insurance money, will American’s show the same level of vehemence they did when they believed it was two black teens who killed Antonio Santiago? Will they still cry out for execution, or will they see the case differently, if the killer turns out to be middle-aged, white and female, rather than young, black and male?
And then there is the question of the jurors. Will there be another jury of all white women, women who have to choose between two scenarios; Did a soft-spoken white, southern woman (whom they surely can identify with) actually shoot her own infant – or the alternative, did two black hoodlum gangsters try to rob her, killing her baby in the process? Can such a jury be found in Georgia that is able to set aside their underlying stereotypes about women, about blacks, about society and of course, about themselves, to listen to facts, examine evidence and come to a just decision?
As the long-standing tradition of racism in the United States is challenged by minorities and non-minorities across the country, the question of whether or not these two young men can hope for justice is a lingering one. There is overt racism, which we see hear every day from politicians, public figures and members of the general population. There is also an undercurrent of racism, one which convicted these two teens without question, from the moment Sherry West first levelled her accusations. It’s the same undercurrent that caused the public to view Trayvon Martin as a threat, even though he was an unarmed teenager, walking home from the candy store. The question is, will racism lead to the conviction of two innocent teens, arrested and tried for a crime they did not commit? Will people finally be able to step back and ask themselves how and why they “knew” those teens were guilty, from the moment they set eyes on them? And then will they finally be able to also ask how and why they just “knew”George Zimmerman wasn’t guilty of murder? Both these cases were tried in the minds of the American public, long before the evidence was heard, before the trials had even begun.
Racism is a threat to every American. The Baby Santiago case may prove that it’s not just the African-American population or the Latino population or the Muslim population, that suffers the consequences. If something does not change, murderers will continue to go free, while innocent people’s lives are destroyed. If our underlying belief system continues to reinforce the idea that the black person is always the guilty party, there’s little to stop people like Sherry West and George Zimmerman, from staging murders of white people or black people, of teenagers and even toddlers of any color, having full confidence that as long as they implicate a black person, no-one will even question their innocence.