[News] How the System Worked - The US v. Trayvon Martin

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jul 15 13:27:01 EDT 2013


http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/07/15/the-us-v-trayvon-martin/

July 15, 2013
*How the System Worked - The US v. Trayvon Martin*
by ROBIN D.G. KELLEY

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Texas 
Congressman Louie Gohmert, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Senator Rand 
Paul, Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley (also sponsor of his 
state's Stand Your Ground law), along with a host of other Republicans, 
argued that had the teachers and administrators been armed, those twenty 
little kids whose lives Adam Lanza stole would be alive today.   Of 
course, they were parroting the National Rifle Association's talking 
points.  The NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), 
the conservative lobbying group responsible for drafting and pushing 
"Stand Your Ground" laws across the country, insist that an armed 
citizenry is the only effective defense against imminent threats, 
assailants, and predators.

But when George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, 
teenage pedestrian returning home one rainy February evening from a 
neighborhood convenience store, the NRA went mute.  Neither NRA 
officials nor the pro-gun wing of the Republican Party argued that had 
Trayvon Martin been armed, he would be alive today.  The basic facts are 
indisputable: Martin was on his way home when Zimmerman began to follow 
him---first in his SUV, and then on foot.  Zimmerman told the police he 
had been following this "suspicious-looking" young man.  Martin knew he 
was being followed and told his friend, Rachel Jeantel, that the man 
might be some kind of sexual predator.  At some point, Martin and 
Zimmerman confronted each other, a fight ensued, and in the struggle 
Zimmerman shot and killed Martin.

Zimmerman pursued Martin.  This is a fact.  Martin could have run, I 
suppose, but every black man knows that unless you're on a field, a 
track, or a basketball court, running is suspicious and could get you a 
bullet in the back.  The other option was to ask this stranger what he 
was doing, but confrontations can also be dangerous---especially without 
witnesses and without a weapon besides a cel phone and his fists.  
Florida law did not require Martin to retreat, though it is not clear if 
he had tried to retreat.  He did know he was in imminent danger.

Where was the NRA on Trayvon Martin's right to stand his ground?  What 
happened to their principled position?  Let's be clear: the Trayvon 
Martin's of the world never had that right because the "ground" was 
never considered theirs to stand on.  Unless black people could 
magically produce some official documentation proving that they are not 
burglars, rapists, drug dealers, pimps or prostitutes, intruders, they 
are assumed to be "up to no good."  (In the antebellum period, such 
documentation was called "freedom papers.")  As Wayne LaPierre, NRA's 
executive vice president, succinctly explained their
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0674046242/counterpunchmaga>position, 
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a 
gun."   Trayvon Martin was a bad guy or at least looked and acted like 
one.  In our allegedly postracial moment, where simply talking about 
racism openly is considered an impolitic, if not racist, thing to do, we 
constantly learn and re-learn racial codes.  The world knows black men 
are criminal, that they populate our jails and prisons, that they kill 
each other over trinkets, that even the celebrities among us are up to 
no good.  Zimmerman's racial profiling was therefore justified, and the 
defense consistently employed racial stereotypes and played on racial 
knowledge to turn the victim into the predator and the predator into the 
victim.  In short, it was Trayvon Martin, not George Zimmerman, who was 
put on trial.  He was tried for the crimes he may have committed and the 
ones he would have committed had he lived past 17.  He was tried for 
using lethal force against Zimmerman in the form of a sidewalk and his 
natural athleticism.

The successful transformation of Zimmerman into the victim of black 
predatory violence was evident not only in the verdict but in the 
stunning Orwellian language defense lawyers Mark O'Mara and Don West 
employed in the post-verdict interview.  West was incensed that anyone 
would have the audacity to even bring the case to trial---suggesting 
that no one needs to be held accountable for the killing of an unarmed 
teenager.  When *O'Mara* was asked if he thought the verdict might have 
been different if his client had been black, he replied: "Things would 
have been different for George Zimmerman if he was black for this 
reason: he would never have been charged with a crime."  In other words, 
black men can go around killing indiscriminately with no fear of 
prosecution because there are no Civil Rights organizations pressing to 
hold them accountable.

And yet, it would be a mistake to place the verdict at the feet of the 
defense for its unscrupulous use of race, or to blame the prosecution 
for avoiding race, or the jury for insensitivity, or even the gun lobby 
for creating the conditions that have made the murder of young black men 
justifiable homicide.  The verdict did not surprise me, or most people I 
know, because we've been here before.  We were here with Latasha Harlins 
and Rodney King, with Eleanor Bumpurs and Michael Stewart.  We were here 
with Anthony Baez, Michael Wayne Clark, Julio Nunez, Maria Rivas, 
Mohammed Assassa.   We were here with Amadou Diallo, the Central Park 
Five, Oscar Grant, Stanley "Rock" Scott, Donnell "Bo" Lucas, Tommy 
Yates.  We were here with Angel Castro, Jr.  Bilal Ashraf, Anthony 
Starks, Johnny Gammage, Malice Green, Darlene Tiller, Alvin Barroso, 
Marcillus Miller, Brenda Forester.  We've been here before with Eliberto 
Saldana, Elzie Coleman, Tracy Mayberry, De Andre Harrison, Sonji Taylor, 
Baraka Hall, Sean Bell, Tyisha Miller, Devon Nelson, LaTanya Haggerty, 
Prince Jamel Galvin, Robin Taneisha Williams, Melvin Cox, Rudolph Bell, 
Sheron Jackson.  And Jordan Davis, killed in Jacksonville, Florida, not 
long after Trayvon Martin.  His murderer, Michael Dunn, emptied his gun 
into the parked SUV where Davis and three friends sat because they 
refused to turn down their music.  Dunn is invoking "stand your ground" 
in his defense.

The list is long and deep.  In 2012 alone, police officers, security 
guards or vigilantes took the lives of 136 unarmed black men and 
women---at least twenty-five of whom were killed by vigilantes. In ten 
of the incidents, the killers were not charged with a crime, and most of 
those who were charged either escaped conviction or accepted reduced 
charges in exchange for a guilty plea.  And I haven't included the reign 
of terror that produced at least 5,000 legal lynchings in the United 
States, or the numerous assassinations---from political activists to 
four black girls attending Sunday school in Birmingham fifty years ago.

The point is that justice was always going to elude Trayvon Martin, not 
because the system /failed/, but because it worked.  Martin died and 
Zimmerman walked because our entire political and legal foundations were 
built on an ideology of settler colonialism---an ideology in which the 
protection of white property rights was always sacrosanct; predators and 
threats to those privileges were almost always black, brown, and red; 
and where the very purpose of police power was to discipline, monitor, 
and contain populations rendered a threat to white property and 
privilege.  This has been the legal standard for African Americans and 
other racialized groups in the U.S. long before ALEC or the NRA came 
into being.  We were rendered property in slavery, and a threat to 
property in freedom.  And during the brief moment in the 1860s and '70s, 
when former slaves participated in democracy, held political offices, 
and insisted on the rights of citizenship, it was a well-armed (white) 
citizenry that overthrew democratically-elected governments in the 
South, assassinated black political leaders, stripped African-Americans 
of virtually all citizenship rights (the franchise, the right of habeas 
corpus, right of free speech and assembly, etc.), and turned an entire 
people into predators.  (For evidence, read the crime pages of any urban 
newspaper during the early 20^th century.  Or just watch the hot new 
show, "Orange is the New Black.")

If we do not come to terms with this history, we will continue to 
believe that the system just needs to be tweaked, or that the fault lies 
with a fanatical gun culture or a wacky right-wing fringe.  We will miss 
the routine character of such murders: according data compiled by the 
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a black person is killed by the state or 
by state-sanctioned violence every 28 hours.  And we will miss how this 
history of routine violence has become a central component of the U.S. 
drone warfare and targeted killing.  What are signature strikes if not 
routine, justified killings of young men who /might/ be Al-caeda members 
or /may/ one day commit acts of terrorism?  It is little more than a 
form of high-tech racial profiling.

In the end, we should be able to prevent another Sandy Hook school 
tragedy---and the $7.7 million dollars that poured into Newtown on 
behalf of the victims suggests a real will to do all we can to protect 
the innocent.  But, sadly, the trial of Travyon Martin reminds us, once 
again, that our black and brown children must prove their innocence 
every day.  We cannot change the situation by simply finding the right 
legal strategy.  Unless we challenge the entire criminal justice system 
and mass incarceration, there will be many more Trayvon Martins and a 
constant dread that one of our children might be next.  As long as we 
continue to uphold and defend a system designed to protect white 
privilege, property and personhood, and render black and brown people 
predators, criminals, illegals, and terrorists, we will continue to 
attend funerals and rallies; watch in stunned silence as another police 
officer or vigilante is acquitted after taking another young life; allow 
our government to kill civilians in our name; and inherit a society in 
which our prisons and jails become the largest, most diverse 
institutions in the country.

/*Robin D. G. Kelley*, who teaches at UCLA, is the author of the 
remarkable biography Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American 
Original 
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1439190461/counterpunchmaga> (2009) 
and most recently Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in 
Revolutionary Times 
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0674046242/counterpunchmaga>(2012)./

/ /

-- 
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