Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dr. Michael C. Dawson On the Theory and Practice of Contemporary African American Politics From a Critical Perspective

Dr. Michael C. Dawson


The Leading Edge
by Michael C. Dawson
Boston Review

This article is part of The Future of Black Politics, a forum on the power and potential of black movements.

The two central arguments of my essay are that no progressive movement can be successful if it fails to take on both racial and economic injustice, and that rebuilding progressive black movements—there is more than one type—is a necessity in forging a wider multiracial progressive movement.

At their best, progressive black political movements were never based on an essentialist notion of blackness or some mythical African past but on the twin and ever-relevant foundations of solidarity: first, a sense that one African American’s fate was linked to that of other African Americans, and, second, shared political sensibilities. These radical and radically different shared sensibilities included a vision of racial and economic justice, opposition to imperialist American foreign policy, and confidence in the capacity of a strong central government to uphold human rights against reactionary states rights forces. These combined with a robust and critical activism willing to challenge injustice whether it emerged from civil society, corporate elites, or state policy.

As I describe in Not In Our Lifetimes, public opinion data show that this political solidarity is still alive and surprisingly healthy among African Americans. Despite what Jennifer Hochschild claims, some 70 percent of blacks today believe their fates are linked. And in direct opposition to large majorities of white Americans, large majorities of blacks opposed U.S. military intervention in Iraq, believe that protest against the war was not unpatriotic, and believe that the aftermath of the Katrina disaster taught us much about the continued nature of racial inequality within the United States.

Hochschild’s viewpoint—that young African Americans are unlikely to join a movement built around racial justice and that, “like sportsmen, political activists must hunt where the ducks are”—represents a dangerous and old-fashioned myth of the American left, one that goes back a hundred years: that the quest for racial justice should be deferred, or is no longer relevant, or is secondary to more important claims for justice. It is as misguided now as it was in the early twentieth century, when Socialist Party leaders, in the name of building a multiracial coalition, refused to support progressive black movements. Progressive black movements have always been capable of joining with other progressive forces across racial lines—which cannot be said of many other groups in the United States—and of criticizing reactionary elements within black communities.

My disagreements with other respondents are less pointed. I share William Julius Wilson’s enthusiasm for developing public messages that “help ordinary Americans become more aware of how global economic changes as well as monetary, fiscal, and social policies have increased social inequality.” As he explains, these messages should make clear that “many of the government’s policies exacerbate rather than alleviate the economic stresses of ordinary families.” Wilson is also right about not viewing problems in the black community from solely the standpoint of race. But I stress that we should not sharply distinguish racial from economic justice. We need to give both their due, along with the struggle against patriarchy. As black feminists have been trying to teach us for decades, one must embrace intersectionality—understand, that is, that the racial order, class system, and patriarchy are mutually constitutive and that each is shaped and expressed through its interaction with the others.

Building a political movement is not an either-or scenario. As I have argued, black political movements have historically formed a leading edge of American democratic and progressive causes. This view of the potential of black political movements is consistent with Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres’s concept of “political race.” Solidarity has a political, not a “phenotypic,” basis; racial injustice is acknowledged and attacked, but the aims of the movement are universal: justice for all and the crafting of a society that supports rather than eviscerates the possibility for human flourishing.

Black solidarity must be institutionalized and organized, not simply felt.

Tommie Shelby supports black solidarity, but he calls for “multiracial political organizations that work for progressive goals.” As someone who spent years in such organizations, I agree that this should be a key aim. Shelby also argues that blacks need to retain the bonds of solidarity in order to “ensure that the political organizations that they participate in . . . do not neglect or marginalize their interests.” I agree with that too, but I believe black solidarity must be institutionalized and organized, not simply felt. Independent black organizations are the most effective way to do that.

I was a union activist for several years, serving as both shop steward and member of my SEIU local’s contract negotiating team. With black progressives, I worked both within the union and within a black caucus that kept black workers’ concerns about racial injustice on the union’s agenda and that often formed the union’s most militant faction when it came to general demands. Many of us were members of black community organizations and multiracial progressive organizations as well. These different organizations enhanced each other’s effectiveness. Some black activists are more comfortable in black organizations, some in multiracial organizations; some are comfortable in both. A vibrant movement incorporates a variety of organizational forms with overlapping divisions of labor.

My emphasis on black solidarity is not meant to paper over the real divides within black communities that Andra Gillespie and Dorian Warren identify. Gillespie astutely argues that the interests of less affluent blacks are underrepresented in a society where a middle class–dominated black leadership increasingly embraces neoliberal politics. Many leaders fail to challenge harmful economic policies and are satisfied with an apathetic, demobilized black community. Yet, as King, Du Bois, and many others argued in the last century, these tensions are not new. One central task of a progressive black movement is to challenge conciliatory and downright reactionary black leaders who accept the political and economic arrangements that devastate poor communities, especially poor communities of color.

In Chicago, a city that Warren and I know well, black politicians in the 1930s cooperated with the police and landlords to evict poor black tenants even as they portrayed themselves as “race men.” Black leftists and their allies challenged them. History suggests a perennial need to challenge black leaders who aid the exploitation of the poor. It also tells us that we need both multiracial and black progressive organizations to challenge unjust economic and racial orders. As Robin Kelley argues, a black progressive presence is necessary precisely to take on the “black 1 percent.”

Rev. O’Connor confuses assumptions with data. For the record, virtually all my work as a student, union, and community organizer was in Northern California, not the cold black precincts of Chicago. But I’m not arguing that interracial cooperation or effective local black organizing is absent, even in Chicago. I am concerned about what can be done to rebuild national progressive movements capable of taking on the very large challenges we face from rapacious global capitalism and its political arms. I understand from the work of historians such as Glenda Gilmore, Robin Kelley, and Aldon Morris that disconnected local movements, both successful and unsuccessful, were often the precursors of the national civil rights and black power movements that were, in many ways, able to reshape institutions, beliefs, and society. We must have a coordinated movement that is national in scope.

I am sure that O’Connor’s work on a local scale is good and effective, but we need to look at the whole country. The racial divide, as deep as it is in some cities, is much larger when we realize most white Americans do not live in major cities. The national public opinion data is unambiguous and extremely consistent: blacks and whites are as deeply divided politically as they are geographically.

We in America’s urban core sometimes forget that the political realities outside the cities are far more hostile than the realities of our day-to-day lives. Without acknowledging the racial resentment and hostility that shape the political views of all Americans, building the multiracial movement we want, one that can fight all forms of injustice, will be impossible.

1 |

One point of clarification in response to Michael Dawson’s Reply, in case my commentary was unclear or left readers wondering: I do not espouse the “dangerous and old-fashioned myth” ascribed to me, that “the quest for racial justice should be deferred, or is no longer relevant, or is secondary to more important claims for justice.” That view is indeed “misguided,” as Michael says. Just to be crystal clear, in my view the quest for racial justice should not be deferred, it is relevant, and it is not secondary to other claims for justice. My point was, rather, that racial and economic justice are best pursued not by turning exclusively or predominantly to the black population to spearhead the quest, but by bringing together the portion of African Americans who believe the pursuit to be necessary along with the portion of immigrants, Latinos, and European Americans who hold the same belief.

posted 01/13/2012 at 21:44 by Jennifer Hochschild

Gene Demby on White Supremacist Hijacking of Trayvon Martin's Email and Facebook Accounts

Trayvon Martin's Email And Facebook Accounts Allegedly Hacked By White Supremacist

by Gene Demby
March 31, 2012

A white supremacist hacker claims to have broken into Trayvon Martin's email and social networking accounts and posted his private messages online.

"I realize that some of this information might be to [sic] extreme to believe," a hacker named Klanklannon wrote, according to Gawker, which has an original copy of the message thread posted to the popular, unruly message board 4chan. "That's why I offer you evidence. Here are my sources."

A slide posted to the message board titled "Trayvon Martin Used Marijuana Habitually," apparently shows a conversation between Martin and a friend about getting high. Another alleged that Martin was a drug dealer and showed a picture of Martin standing "aggressively with a large amount of cash in his hand."

Gawker reported that Klankannon shared several of Martin's usernames and email accounts on the thread. The hacker also said that the passwords had been changed to racist slurs like "niggerniggernigger" and "coontrayvonnigger."

Martin, 17, was shot and killed by self-appointed neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman as Martin returned to his father's house in Sanford, Fla., on the night of Feb. 26. Zimmerman claimed that Martin looked "suspicious" in a 911 call. Not long after the call, Martin and Zimmerman engaged in a fight, and Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest. Zimmerman was not charged in the shooting, which has sparked a national outcry and drawn considerable media attention.

A much-circulated photo of a grimacing teen with his middle finger extended -- that many right-leaning sites have suggested is the Trayvon Martin the "mainstream media" does not want the public to see -- was also originally circulated on the white supremacist site, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. The person in that photo was not Martin, but another teenager who shared the name.

Slate's political reporter Dave Weigel, who has long covered the conservative movement, said that the misattributed photo was "part of a new cottage industry of 'truth about Trayvon' content, calibrated to convince people that they really shouldn't worry about the implications of this killing."

"Why, the kid wasn't even a saint!" Weigel said of the logic of such conservative sites. "He might have been shot after brawling with the man who creeply [sic] followed him around the gated community?"

But Gawker's Adrian Chen wrote that the attempts to smear Martin have backfired "because the picture they paint is of a normal high school junior preparing for college."

A screenshot of Trayvon's Gmail inbox our source provided us is heartbreaking. Martin apparently used his Gmail account for his college search, and it's filled with emails about upcoming SAT tests and scholarship applications. ("Trayvon, now is the best time to take the SATs!") One email included the results of a career aptitude test, our source said. It "talked about his interest in aeronautics and stuff."

This is not the first time Martin's online life has made the news. Earlier this week, conservative site Daily Caller obtained and posted messages from Martin's since-deleted Twitter account that date back to the beginning of the year. When The Huffington Post talked to the Caller's executive editor, David Martosko, who published Martin's tweets under his byline, Martosko said that he did so because his audience was hungry for information about the Martin shooting and the two people involved.

"These were not protected tweets," Martosko said. "While he was alive, these were not outside of the public sphere in any shape or form."

Martosko said that the Caller ran Martin's tweets "without value judgment," and would that he would publish Zimmerman's tweets if he was made aware of an account opened and used by Zimmerman.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What It Really Means To Be Trayvon Martin In A Virulently Racist Society

Kevin Powell

Trayvon Martin, shot during a trip to a convenience store by George Zimmerman. Photograph: AP

Trayvon Martin and the fatal history of American racism

Every incident like the shooting of Trayvon Martin has its random elements. But the pattern of tragedy upon tragedy is inescapable

by Kevin Powell,

20 March 2012

I am Trayvon Martin.

So are you. And so is any human being who has ever felt cornered, in a dark and desolate alley, between life and death. Add the grim reality of skin color in America, and you have the disastrous spectacle of 250lb George Zimmerman, 28, pursuing 140lb Trayvon, 17, until that man-child is screaming "Help!" – and then gasping for air after a bullet from Zimmerman's 9mm handgun had punctured his chest. A majority-white, gated community became, on 26 February, the makeshift mortuary for a black boy who will not get a chance to live, to go to college with his exceptional high school grades, to make something of his life. Trayvon's fatal act: a mundane walk to the nearby convenience store to buy a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles.

This is what racism, the American version of it, means to black boys like Trayvon, to black men like me. That we often don't stand a chance when it has been determined, oftentimes by a single individual acting as judge and jury, that we are criminals to be pursued, confronted, tackled, and, yes, subdued. To be shocked and awed into submission

The police authorities in Sanford, Florida, where the shooting occurred, are apparently so mired in racial prejudice and denial that George Zimmerman, at this writing, still has not been arrested nearly a month after Trayvon was killed – in spite of Zimmerman being told, on 911 police dispatch audio, not to follow Trayvon Martin.

In spite of Zimmerman being charged in 2005 with resisting arrest with violence and battery on a police officer. In spite of Zimmerman calling the police 46 times since January 2011. In spite of Zimmerman, according to neighbors, being fixated on bracketing young black males with criminality. In spite of Zimmerman being the subject of complaints from neighbors in his gated community due to his aggressive tactics. In spite of the officer in charge of the crime scene also receiving criticism in 2010 when he initially failed to arrest a lieutenant's son who was videotaped attacking a homeless black man. In spite of Zimmerman violating major principles of the Neighborhood Watch manual (the manual states: "It should be emphasized to members that they do not possess police powers. And they shall not carry weapons or pursue vehicles.")

In spite of Zimmerman not being a member of a registered group, which police were not aware of at the time of the incident. And in spite of the Sanford, Florida police failing to test Zimmerman for drugs or alcohol. (A law enforcement expert told ABC that Zimmerman sounds intoxicated on the 911 tapes, and that drug and alcohol testing is "standard procedure in most homicide investigations".)

Finally, what was a man like George Zimmerman doing with a gun in the first place? And will Florida's very controversial "stand your ground" self-defense law prevent Zimmerman from ever being prosecuted, especially as he and his lawyers are claiming he was protecting himself from harm?

Finally, does any of the above truly matter, if the shooter has white skin and the victim's is brown?

We've heard, since President Obama came into office, that we suddenly, miraculously, live in a "post-racial" America, that there now is such a thing as "post-blackness". Try telling that to the families of Trayvon Martin. Or Ramarley Graham. Or Sean Bell. Or Oscar Grant. Or Amadou Diallo. Or Emmett Till. Or the Scottsboro Boys. And numberless others in modern US history.

Racism remains the greatest cancer of American society, and has been since the founding of this nation – by men who owned slaves. You cannot slaughter and push from the land Native Americans, enslave black people, harass and marginalize Asians, Latinos and Jews, and scapegoat immigrant white ethnics and Arabs through your long and tumultuous history, then wonder how the killing of Trayvon Martin could happen in the first place? The former is the context for the latter.

We, most of us, have been socialized to fear and demonize difference, the other. Trayvon's murder is of a piece with hysterical and overzealous anti-immigration policies and new voter ID laws that recall the days of segregation and harsh American racial apartheid. Left unchecked, as George Zimmerman has been left unchecked, and you perpetuate this ugly national tragedy.

American racism is not merely a distortion of human psychology that teaches the George Zimmermans of our nation to see Trayvon Martin as nothing more than a criminal; it is also the debilitating disease that allows us, on the one hand, to denounce the alleged atrocities of Kony in faraway Africa we've seen in that ubiquitous viral video, and on the other, to overlook the Trayvon Martins, just as we ignore the routine stop-and-frisk harassment of legions of black and Latino young males.

We are trapped in the stereotyping that saw my friend's son being told by his teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia recently, as he reciited a Langston Hughes poem, that he needed to read it "blacker". The stereotyping that allows us to cheer loudly for the majority-black college basketball teams during March Madness, yet won't permit us to pay attention to Trayvon Martin's parents, clearly shattered, pleading for some shred of justice.

The Justice Department's intervention is welcome, if belated. But it is American racism that constrains our leaders, like President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, from speaking forcibly and publicly about this destructive cancer for fear of alienating "regular" folks. If the president could call on Sandra Fluke considering the insult she'd received from Rush Limbaugh, we should be able to expect him to offer his condolences to Martin's parents for the grevious injury they have received.

For the sake of Trayvon Martin, and the Trayvon Martins who never had this sort of mass outcry, something must be done. But if we choose to turn our ears and hearts away from his parents and his community, then Trayvon Martin's blood will be on the hands of this entire nation. Will we ignore that call for help, as Trayvon's went unheeded?

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

The Shoot To Kill First, Then Claim Self-Defense Later Law and American Racism

Shoot First, Claim Self-Defense Later
MARCH 20, 2012
New York Times

In late February, 28-year-old George Zimmerman called 911 to report that a “real suspicious guy” was walking down the street in Sanford, Fla. He decided to follow the “suspicious guy,” and later that night Mr. Zimmerman shot and killed him with a 9 mm handgun. The “suspicious guy” was a black 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin. He was unarmed, carrying only a bag of Skittles, a can of iced tea and a cellphone.

Mr. Zimmerman claimed he was acting in self-defense, and the local police decided not to arrest him, provoking outrage from many corners. The state attorney’s office for Brevard and Seminole Counties announced Tuesday that a grand jury will examine the incident next month, and the Justice Department is conducting its own investigation, as it should.

The idea that Mr. Zimmerman feared for his life seems ridiculous. Why did he find a teenager walking down the street suspicious? OK, that was a rhetorical question. He found him suspicious because he was black. (This is a classic walking-while-black case.) If Mr. Zimmerman felt threatened, why did he follow Mr. Martin? Why didn’t he stay put, as the police dispatcher advised him to do? He was, after all, nothing but an armed vigilante – not a police officer, not even a security guard, just a man who armed himself and went out looking for trouble.

What’s more ridiculous is that prosecutors may have a difficult time with the case, because Florida is a Stand Your Ground state. Stand Your Ground laws do away with the longstanding legal concept that there’s a “duty to retreat” – that the sane and sensible thing to do when confronted with a “suspicious” situation is to get the heck out of there. In Florida and a number of other states, if running for safety is an option you don’t have to take it. You can meet perceived danger with deadly force; and if you end up making a dodgy situation worse, you can fire your gun and claim self-defense. Then it’s up to the prosecution to disprove that claim.

As Jeffrey Bellin, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, told the Christian Science Monitor, “Even if you have suspicions about what motivated this, and you think there was a racial element and no justification for this shooting, the fact is he had no obligation to retreat under the law.”

I doubt the legislators who passed Stand Your Ground had this scenario in mind, or at least I hope not. Florida state Senator Oscar Brayon, who’s demanding hearings into the law, said: “I don’t think they planned for people who would go out and become vigilantes or be like some weird Batman who would go out and kill little kids like Trayvon.” Whatever their intentions, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Stand Your Ground provides too much cover for aggression. The Tampa Bay Times reported in 2010 that “justifiable homicides tripled after the law went into effect” and that it “has been invoked in at least 93 cases with 65 deaths.”

It took Fox News a while to get onto this story, but when it did, it identified the real victim – the National Rifle Association. On America Live, Trace Gallagher said: “the alleged gunman claim[ed] it was self-defense, and now anti-gun advocates say the 911 calls from some witnesses prove otherwise, and they’re using them as ammunition in a new attack on the National Rifle Association.” Later he added, “It’s important to point out that gun sales in this country have never been higher and the crime rate, says the FBI, is very low.”

I don’t think that’s important to point out at all, actually. Far more important is what Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign, said in a press release: “Trayvon’s life has been lost not because of an accident.” He lost his life because a man in a state with weak gun laws left his house with a 9mm, and used it.

The Christian Science Monitor

Trayvon Martin killing in Florida puts 'Stand Your Ground' law on trial

The shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in a gated Florida community has raised allegations of racial injustice and highlighted the burden that 'Stand Your Ground' laws impose on law enforcement officers.

The family of the black teenager fatally shot by a white neighborhood watch volunteer arrived at Sanford City Hall Friday evening March 16, 2012 to listen to recordings of 911 calls.

By Patrik Jonsson, Staff writer
posted March 16, 2012

For many tuning in across the nation, the shooting late last month in Florida of an unarmed black teenager by a suspicious neighborhood watch captain looks like a racially motivated murder.

That's why the decision by the police not to arrest George Zimmerman for getting out of his car and shooting Trayvon Martin in the middle of a gated neighborhood in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26 has raised allegations of racial injustice and profiling.
The shooting has sparked a nationwide protest petition, the involvement of a black militia group, and, on Friday, a call by the parents of the slain teenager for the FBI to investigate the handling of the case, which police have handed off to state investigators.

The shooting also presents a tragic snapshot of so-called "Stand Your Ground" laws, what critics call “license-to-murder.”

Such laws eliminate the English Law concept of a “duty to retreat” from dangerous situations outside the home. Without that, an armed citizen has no obligation to stand down in the face of a threat.

The problem, as the Martin case highlights, is that making the duty to retreat "totally irrelevant," as Stetson University law professor Robert Batey has said, means the law gives prosecutors fewer factors to consider when determining self-defense, including, potentially, the extent to which a person claiming self-defense may have aggravated the situation.

Florida became the first state to pass a specific Stand Your Ground law in 2005, essentially expanding self-defense zones from the home to most public places. Seventeen states now have such laws.

“It's hard to imagine that this couldn't have been resolved by [Mr. Zimmerman] leaving, so that no one would've gotten hurt, so this is a case where the Stand Your Ground law can actually make a legal difference,” says former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Bellin, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas.

“Even if you have suspicions about what motivated this, and you think there was a racial element and no justification for this shooting, the fact is he had no obligation to retreat under the law,” he notes. “If prosecutors don't have the evidence to disprove the claim of self-defense, they won't be able to win.”

But for the parents of the victim, and some 240,000 people who have signed a petition for a federal investigation on the website, the bare facts of the case suggest that Zimmerman was the aggressor and that the failure to arrest him points to covert racism and an abdication of authority by the local police department.

In a press conference Friday, Trayvon Martin's parents said they no longer had any faith in the Sanford Police Department and called on the FBI to take over the investigation.

"We're not getting any closure, any answers, and it's very disturbing,” Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father, said. “As a father, I'm hurt. I feel betrayed by the Sanford Police Department."

Meanwhile, tensions are roiling in the area as several large rallies and protests are being planned and a black militia group has vowed to place the shooter under citizen's arrest. The state has said it may take several weeks to complete its review of the case.

On Feb. 26, Zimmerman, 28, a self-appointed block watch captain in The Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community in Sanford, just outside Orlando, called 911 from his car to report a suspicious person – a black man wearing a hoodie – walking slowly through the neighborhood. The 911 operator, according to police, told Zimmerman to wait for police to arrive. The man in the hoodie was Trayvon, returning to his family's house from buying Skittles and an iced tea at a local convenience store.

Instead of waiting for police, Zimmerman exited the car and shot Trayvon after a brief altercation. Trayvon, 17, had no previous criminal record, while Zimmerman recently had a 2005 felony arrest for assault on a police officer expunged by the courts.

"Had Trayvon Martin been the triggerman, they would have arrested him day one, hour one and he would be in jail with no bail,” Ben Crump, a Tallahassee lawyer representing the family, told the Florida Courier.

"We have a murderer on the streets, walking around," Natalie Jackson, another lawyer representing the family, said on Friday.
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee told the Orlando Sentinel that he had no grounds to arrest Zimmerman, and told reporters Thursday that that he has invited the US Department of Justice and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review the investigation. Florida officials confirmed they began an investigation on March 13.

"It's an open book," Mr. Lee said. "If they want to look at what we did and how we did it and what information we have, they're welcome to it."
Police have released little information, including the 911 tapes, about what happened that night and no details about how Trayvon and Zimmerman ended up grappling. What has been revealed is that before an officer arrived, Trayvon and Zimmerman got into a fight, according to police, witnesses heard one or both calling for help, and Zimmerman shot Trayvon once in the chest with a 9 mm handgun.

One witness said he came upon the scene and saw Zimmerman on his back on the ground, which jibes with statements by the police that he was covered in grass and blood. Another witness has said in a TV interview that “there was no punching, no hitting going on at the time, no wrestling,” but police say that witness gave an official account to them that jibed with Zimmerman's story.

In a letter to the Orlando Sentinel on Friday, Zimmerman's father, Robert Zimmerman, wrote that his son is part-Hispanic “with many black family members and friends.” He also pushed back at the idea that Zimmerman was the aggressor who instigated the altercation.
"At no time did George follow or confront Mr. Martin," he wrote. "When the true details of the event become public, and I hope that will be soon, everyone should be outraged by the treatment of George Zimmerman in the media."

The emotional stakes, racial backdrop, and the awkward position of the police department suggest how state laws broadening self-defense rights can backfire. But whether it's a prosecutor or a jury deciding the outcome of a case, self-defense arguments are often powerful and difficult to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt, even in jurisdictions without Stand Your Ground laws.

“This is a tragedy, and to the extent the law plays a role in encouraging this type of situation to happen, it calls into question the law,” says Professor Bellin. “At the same time, it's not clear that if this happens in a jurisdiction where there isn't a Stand Your Ground law, that you necessarily get a different result.”

Monday, March 26, 2012

What Everyone Should Know About the Trayvon Martin Murder Case

Trayvon Martin

What Everyone Should Know About Trayvon Martin (1995-2012)
By Judd Legum

March 18, 2012
Think Progress

On February 26, 2012, a 17-year-old African-American named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida. The shooter was George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old white man.* Zimmerman admits killing Martin, but claims he was acting in self-defense. Three weeks after Martin’s death, no arrests have been made and Zimmerman remains free.

Here is what everyone should know about the case:

1. Zimmerman called the police to report Martin’s “suspicious” behavior, which he described as “just walking around looking about.” Zimmerman was in his car when he saw Martin walking on the street. He called the police and said: “There’s a real suspicious guy. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around looking about… These a**holes always get away” [Orlando Sentinel]

2. Zimmerman pursued Martin against the explicit instructions of the police dispatcher:
Dispatcher: “Are you following him?”
Zimmerman: “Yeah”
Dispatcher: “OK, we don’t need you to do that.”
[Orlando Sentinel]

3. Prior to the release of the 911 tapes, Zimmerman’s father released a statement claiming “[a]t no time did George follow or confront Mr. Martin.” [Sun Sentinel]
4. Zimmerman was carrying a a 9 millimeter handgun. Martin was carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. [ABC News]

5. Martin weighed 140 pounds. Zimmerman weighs 250 pounds. [Orlando Sentinel; WDBO]

6. Martin’s English teacher described him as “as an A and B student who majored in cheerfulness.” [Orlando Sentinel]

7. Martin had no criminal record. [New York Times]

8. Zimmerman “was charged in July 2005 with resisting arrest with violence and battery on an officer. The charges appear to have been dropped.” [Huffington Post]

9. Zimmerman called the police 46 times since Jan. 1, 2011. [Miami Herald]

10. According to neighbors, Zimmerman was “fixated on crime and focused on young, black males.” [Miami Herald]

11. Zimmerman “had been the subject of complaints by neighbors in his gated community for aggressive tactics” [Huffington Post]

12. A police officer “corrected” a key witness. “The officer told the witness, a long-time teacher, it was Zimmerman who cried for help, said the witness. ABC News has spoken to the teacher and she confirmed that the officer corrected her when she said she heard the teenager shout for help.” [ABC News]

13. Three witnesses say they heard a boy cry for help before a shot was fired. “Three witnesses contacted by The Miami Herald say they saw or heard the moments before and after the Miami Gardens teenager’s killing. All three said they heard the last howl for help from a despondent boy.” [Miami Herald]

14. The officer in charge of the crime scene also received criticism in 2010 when he initially failed to arrest a lieutenant’s son who was videotaped attacking a homeless black man. [New York Times]

15. The police did not test Zimmerman for drugs or alcohol. A law enforcement expert told ABC that Zimmerman sounds intoxicated on the 911 tapes. Drug and alcohol testing is “standard procedure in most homicide investigations.” [ABC News]

16. In a cell phone call moments before his death, Martin told a teenage girl that he was “hounded by a strange man on a cellphone who ran after him, cornered him and confronted him.” “‘He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man,’ Martin’s friend said. ‘I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run but he said he was not going to run.’ Eventually he would run, said the girl, thinking that he’d managed to escape. But suddenly the strange man was back, cornering Martin. ‘Trayvon said, ‘What, are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’” [ABC News]

17. Police have Trayvon Martin’s cell phone but never contact his girlfriend.[Miami Herald]

18. Zimmerman told the police “he had stepped out of his truck to check the name of the street he was on when Trayvon attacked him from behind as he walked back to his truck.” “He said he feared for his life and fired the semiautomatic handgun he was licensed to carry because he feared for his life.” [Miami Herald]

19. The incident occurred in a tiny gated community Zimmerman patrolled regularly. [Miami Herald]

20. Zimmerman was not a member of a registered Neighborhood Watch group. Zimmerman also violated basic Neighborhood Watch guidelines by carrying a weapon. [ABC News]

21. The police reports were amended to bolster Zimmerman’s claim of self defense. “Initial police reports never mentioned that Zimmerman had a bloody nose or a wet shirt that showed evidence of a struggle.” [Miami Herald]

22. Police ignored witness whose account was different from Zimmerman’s.“One of the witnesses who heard the crying said she called a detective repeatedly, but said he was not interested because her account differed from Zimmerman’s.” [Miami Herald]

23. Zimmerman still has a permit to carry a concealed weapon in the State of Florida. [ThinkProgress]

The Martin case had been turned over to the Seminole County State Attorney’s Office.

*Zimmerman was described by the police as white. According to his family he is also Hispanic.


FBI tells ABC News they are monitoring the Trayvon Martin investigation and have been in touch with local authorities.


On March 20, the United States Department of Justice, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney announced they were launching “a thorough and independent review” of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.


The Florida state attorney has sent the Trayvon Martin case to a grand jury. The Seminole County grand jury will be called to session on Tuesday, April 10.


The Sanford city council on 3 to 2 vote, says it has no confidence in police chief Bill Lee.


Sheriff Bill Lee steps down from his position "temporarily"


Over 30,000 people march in Florida protest march and rally demanding that federal and state officials immediately arrest and jail George Zimmerman and to hold him in police custody while awaiting arraignment and trial; thousands more take part in New York in a massive demonstration and rally in protest of the murder and in support of Trayvon Martin and his family. Trayvon's parents speak to largeprotesting crowds in both Florida and New York. many more marches and rallies in support of Trayvon Martin are scheduled to be held throughout the United States and abroad this week starting today (Monday, March 26, 2012)i n Washington D.C. , Oakland and San Francisco, California, Pittsburgh, and in Sanford, Florida where the murder took place

Trayvon Martin: Upcoming Marches and Events 21 March 2012 TV One

Communities across the nation are coming together to remember 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, demand justice for his killing and an end to racial profiling.

Check back here to find updated info on where marches are being held, and how you can protest against racial profiling and a biased justice system. If you know of a march or event being held in your area, please comment and let us know.

Wednesday, March 21

New York City
Million Hoodies March for Trayvon Martin
6:00PM Union Square 14 St. & Broadway - March to the UN

Oakland/San Francisco
Million Hoodies March for Trayvon Martin
5:30PM in Bradley Manning Plaza -- March to the UN

Thursday, March 22

Sanford, Florida
Support Rally with Rev. Al Sharpton
7:00PM at First Shiloh Baptist Church

National Black United Front - Prayer Vigil for Trayvon Martin
8:00PM at King Park

Friday, March 23

Washington, DC
National Black United Front - Prayer Vigil for Trayvon Martin
6:30PM - The Big Chair - 2100 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE

Saturday, March 24

Norfolk, VA
Occupy the Hood
4:00PM - Lafayette Park

Monday, March 26

Sanford, FL
Justice for Trayvon Martin -- National March and Rally
4:00PM - Sanford City Hall
Bring your voice and a bag of Skittles.

Black Graduate Student Organization -- Remembering Our Lost Rally
12:30PM - Carnegie Mellon University - Academic Mall (main lawn)

Oakland/San Francisco
Emergency Scream-out
12:00PM - Hall of Injustice - 850 Bryant Street

Washington D.C.
Black Solidarity Rally for Trayvon Martin
4:00PM - US Department of Justice - 1425 New York Ave NW

If you aren't able to attend an event, here are some ways you can participate:

1. Wear a hoodie and and upload a pic to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #millionhoodies.

2. Sign the petition started by Trayvon's parents.