Friday, July 19, 2013

Dr. Robin Kelley, Tim Wise, and Rayfield Waller On the Larger Political, Ideological, and Cultural Meaning and Contexts of the Trayvon Martin Verdict


A typically incisive, informative, and profound piece by renowned author, scholar, historian, teacher, and activist Robin D.G. Kelley...Please read and share with others...


How the System Worked
The US v. Trayvon Martin
JULY 15, 2013 

[Editor's note: The following article by Mr. Kelley will also be appearing in the Huffington Post today]


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 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 20th 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 (2009) and most recently Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (2012).


JULY 15, 2013

Racism, Injustice and Explaining America to My Daughter
No Innocence Left to Kill

You remember, forever and forever, that moment when you first discover the cruelties and injustices of the world, and having been ill-prepared for them, your heart breaks open.

I mean really discover them, and for yourself; not because someone else told you to see the elephant standing, gigantic and unrelenting in the middle of your room, but because you saw him, and now you know he’s there, and will never go away until you attack him, and with a vengeance.

Last night, and I am writing it down so that I will not forget — because I already know she will not — my oldest daughter, who attained the age of 12 only eleven days ago, became an American. Not in the legal sense. She was already that, born here, and — as a white child in a nation set up for people just like her — fully entitled to all the rights and privileges thereof, without much question or drama. But now she is American in the fullest and most horrible sense of that word, by which I mean she has been truly introduced to the workings of the system of which she is both a part, and, at the same time, merely an inheritor. A system that fails — with a near-unanimity almost incomprehensible to behold — to render justice to black peoples, the family of Trayvon Martin being only the latest battered by the machinations of American justice, but with all certainty not the last.

To watch her crumble, eyes swollen with tears too salty, too voluminous for her daddy to wipe away? Well now that is but the latest of my heartbreaks; to have to hold her, and tell her that everything will be OK, and to hear her respond, “No it won’t be!” Because see, even though she learned last night about injustice and even more than she knew before about the racial fault lines that divide her nation, she is still a bit too young to fully comprehend the notion of the marathon, as opposed to the sprint; to understand that this is a very long race, indeed that even 26.2 miles is but a crawl in the long distance struggle for justice. And that if she is as bothered by what she sees as it appears, well now she will have to put on some incredibly strong running shoes, because this, my dear, is the work.

This is why daddy does what he does. Now you know.

And yes, I am fully aware that there are still those who would admonish me for even suggesting this case was about race. Not just the defenders of George Zimmerman, with whom I shall deal in a moment, but even the state, whose prosecutors de-racialized this case to a point that frankly was as troubling as anything the defense tried to do. Maybe more. I mean, the defense’s job is to represent their client, and I cannot fault them for having done so successfully. But the prosecution’s job is to make it clear to the jury what the defendant did and preferably why he did it. By agreeing to a fundamentally colorblind, “this isn’t about race,” narrative, they gave away the best part of their arsenal before the war had really started.

Because anyone who still believes that this case had nothing to do with race — or worse, that it was simply a tragedy, the racial meaning of which was concocted by those whom they love to term “race hustlers” — are suffering from a delusion so profound as to call into question their capacities for rational thought. And yet still, let us try to reason with them for a second, as if they were capable of hearing it. Let’s do that for the sake of rational thought itself, as a thing we still believe in; and for our country, which some of us still believe — against all evidence — is capable of doing justice and living up to its promises. In short, let’s give this one more shot.

Those who deny the racial angle to the killing of Trayvon Martin can only do so by a willful ignorance, a carefully cultivated denial of every logical, obvious piece of evidence before them, and by erasing from their minds — if indeed they ever had anything in there to erase — the entire history of American criminal justice, the criminal suspicion regularly attached to black men, and the inevitable results whenever black men pay for these suspicions with their lives. They must choose to leave the dots unconnected between, for instance, Martin on the one hand, and then on the other, Amadou Diallo or Sean Bell or Patrick Dorismond, or any of a number of other black men whose names — were I to list them — would take up page after page, and whose names wouldn’t mean shit to most white people even if I did list them, and that is the problem.

Oh sure, I’ve heard it all before. George Zimmerman didn’t follow Trayvon Martin because Martin was black; he followed him because he thought he might be a criminal. Yes precious, I get that. But whatyou don’t get — and by not getting it while still managing to somehow hold down a job and feedyourself, scare the shit out of me — is far more important. Namely, if the presumption of criminality that Zimmerman attached to Martin was so attached because the latter was black — and would not have been similarly attached to him had he been white — then the charge of racial bias and profiling is entirely appropriate.

And surely we cannot deny that the presumption of criminality was dependent on this dead child’s race can we? Before you answer, please note that even the defense did not deny this. Indeed, Zimmerman’s attorneys acknowledged in court that their client’s concerns about Martin were connected directly to the fact that previous break-ins in the neighborhood had been committed by young black males.

This is why it matters that George Zimmerman justified his following of Martin because as he put it, “these fucking punks” always get away. In other words, Zimmerman saw Martin as just another “fucking punk” up to no good, similar to those who had committed previous break-ins in the community. But why? What behavior did Martin display that would have suggested he was criminally inclined? Zimmerman’s team could produce nothing to indicate anything particularly suspicious about Martin’s actions that night. According to Zimmerman, Martin was walking in the rain, “looking around,” or “looking around at the houses.” But not looking in windows, or jiggling doorknobs or porch screens, or anything that might have suggested a possible burglar. At no point was any evidence presented by the defense to justify their client’s suspicions. All we know is that Zimmerman saw Martin and concluded that he was just like those other criminals. And to the extent there was nothing in Martin’s actions — talking on the telephone and walking slowly home from the store — that would have indicated he was another of those “fucking punks,” the only possible explanation as to why George Zimmerman would have seen him that way is because Martin, as a young black male was presumed to be a likely criminal, and for no other reason, ultimately, but color.

Which is to say, Trayvon Martin is dead because he is black and because George Zimmerman can’t differentiate — and didn’t see the need to — between criminal and non-criminal black people. Which is to say, George Zimmerman is a racist. Because if you cannot differentiate between black criminals and just plain kids, and don’t even see the need to try, apparently, you are a racist. I don’t care what your Peruvian mother says, or her white husband who married the Peruvian mother, or your brother, or your black friends, or the black girl you took to prom, or the black kids you mentored. If you see a black child and assume “criminal,” despite no behavioral evidence at all to suggest such a conclusion, you are a racist. No exceptions. That goes for George Zimmerman and for anyone reading this.

And here’s the thing: even in the evidentiary light most favorable to George Zimmerman this would remain true. Because even if we believe, as the jury did, that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, there can be no question that were it not for George Zimmerman’s unfounded and racially-biased suspicions that evening, Trayvon Martin would be alive, and Zimmerman would be an entirely anonymous, pathetic wanna-be lawman, about whom no one would much care. It was he who initiated the drama that night. And even if you believe that Trayvon Martin attacked Zimmerman after being followed by him, that doesn’t change.

But apparently that moral and existential truth matters little to this jury or to the white reactionaries so quick to praise their decision. To them, the fact that Martin might well have had reason to fear Zimmerman that night, might have thought he was standing his ground, confronted by someone who himself was “up to no good” is irrelevant. They are saying that black people who fight back against someone they think is creepy and who is following them, and might intend to harm them, are more responsible for their deaths than those who ultimately kill them. What they have said, and make no mistake about it, is that any white person who wants to kill a black person can follow one, confront them, maybe even provoke them; and as soon as that black person perhaps takes a swing at them, or lunges at them, the white pursuer can pull their weapon, fire, and reasonably assume that they will get away with this act. I can start drama, and if you respond to the drama I created, you are to blame, not me.

But we know, if we are remotely awake, that this same logic would never be used to protect a black person accused of such an act. Let’s travel back to 1984 shall we, and hypothetically apply this logic to the Bernhard Goetz case in a little thought experiment so as to illustrate the point.

Goetz, as you’ll recall, was the white man who, afraid of young black men because he had been previously mugged, decided to shoot several such youth on a subway. They had not threatened him. They had asked him for money, and apparently teased him a bit. But at no point did they threaten him. Nonetheless, he drew his weapon and fired several rounds into them, even (according to his own initial account, later recanted), shooting a second time at one of the young men, after saying, “You don’t look so bad, here, have another.”

Goetz, predictably, was seen as a hero by the majority of the nation’s whites, if polls and anecdotal evidence are to be believed. He was a Dirty Harry-like vigilante, fighting back against crime, and more to the point, black crime. Ultimately he too would successfully plead self-defense and face conviction only on a minor weapons charge.

But let us pretend for a second that after Goetz pulled his weapon and began to fire at the young men on that subway, one of them had perhaps pulled his own firearm. Now as it turns out none of the boys had one, but let’s just pretend. And let’s say that one of them pulled a weapon precisely because, after all, he and his friends were being fired upon and so, fearing for his life, he opted to defend himself against this deranged gunman. And let’s pretend that the young man managed to hit Goetz, perhaps paralyzing him as Goetz did, in fact, to one of his victims. Does anyone seriously believe that that young black man would have been able to press a successful self-defense claim in court the way Goetz ultimately did? Or in the court of white public opinion the way Zimmerman has? If you would answer yes to this question you are either engaged in an act of self-delusion so profound as to defy imagination, or you are so deeply committed to fooling others as to make you truly dangerous.

But we are not fooled.

We don’t even have to travel back thirty years to the Goetz case to make the point, in fact. We can stay here, with this case. If everything about that night in Sanford had been the same, but Martin, fearing this stranger following him — the latter not identifying himself at any point as Neighborhood Watch — had pulled a weapon and shot George Zimmerman out of a genuine fear that he was going to be harmed (and even if Zimmerman had confronted him in a way so as to make that fear more than speculative), would the claim of self-defense have rung true for those who are so convinced by it in this case? Would this jury have likely concluded that Trayvon had had a right to defend himself against the perceived violent intentions of George Zimmerman?

Oh, and would it have taken so long for Martin to be arrested in the first place, had he been the shooter? Would he have been granted bail? Would he have been given the benefit of the doubt the way Zimmerman was by virtually every white conservative in America of note? And remember, those white folks were rushing to proclaim the shooting of Martin justified even before there had been any claim made by Zimmerman that Trayvon had attacked him. Before anyone had heard Zimmerman’s version of the story, much of white America, and virtually its entire right flank had already decided that Martin must have been up to no good because he wore a hoodie (in the rain, imagine), and was tall (actually according to the coroner he was 5’11″ not 6’2″ or 6’4″ as some have claimed), and that because of those previous break-ins, Zimmerman had every right to confront him.

No, Martin-as-shooter would never have benefitted from these public pronouncements of innocence the way Zimmerman did.

Because apparently black people don’t have a right to defend themselves. Which is why Marissa Alexander, a woman who had suffered violence at the hands of her husband (by his own admission in fact), was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing a warning shot into a wall when she felt he was about to yet again harm her.

And so it continues. Year after year and case after case it continues, with black life viewed as expendable in the service of white fear, with black males in particular (but many a black female as well and plenty of Latino folk too) marked as problems to be solved, rather than as children to be nurtured. And tonight, their parents will hold them and try to assure them that everything is going to be OK, even as they will have to worry again tomorrow that their black or brown child may represent the physical embodiment of white anxiety, and pay the ultimate price for that fact, either at the hands of a random loser with a law enforcement jones, or an actual cop doing the bidding of the state. In short, they will hold their children and lie to them, at least a little — and to themselves — because who doesn’t want their child to believe that everything will be alright?

But in calmer moments these parents of color will also tell their children the truth. That in fact everything is not going to be OK, unless we make it so. That justice is not an act of wish fulfillment but the product of resistance. Because black parents know these things like they know their names, and as a matter of survival they make sure their children know them too.

And if their children have to know them, then mine must know them as well.

And now they do.

If their children are to be allowed no innocence free from these concerns, then so too must mine sacrifice some of their naiveté upon the altar of truth.

And now they have.

So to the keepers of white supremacy, I should offer this final word. You can think of it as a word of caution. My oldest daughter knows who you are and saw what you did. You have made a new enemy. One day, you might wish you hadn’t.

Tim Wise is author of many books, including his most recent, DEAR WHITE AMERICA: LETTER TO A NEW MINORITY published by City Lights (2012).  Cornel West calls Wise “A vanilla brother in the tradition of (antiracism and antislavery fighter) John Brown,”

The Dialectics of ‘Stand Your Ground’
(We’d Best Examine Some Fundamental Issues in the Zimmerman Case Other Than the Verdict)
By Rayfield A. Waller
The Panopticon Review

The link below is from an old Lawrence O'Donnell broadcast on MSNBC. It shows the MSNBC host angrily grilling Attorney Craig Sonner, one of George Zimmerman’s original defense attorneys, in absentia, on the many oddities surrounding Zimmerman. It was aired before the verdict, in fact it was aired in April, early in the breaking news cycle about Zimmerman's killing of Trayvon Martin.

O’Donnell’s intensity and passion back then speaks even now to some of the outright strangeness of this case, strangeness that has as yet not been closely examined nor thoughtfully and thoroughly analyzed in the media, and the list is lengthy:

There is the outrageous and anti-constitutional nature of the 'Concealed Carry Stand Your Ground' law with its racial overtones similar to that of the very sort of laws passed in the south during the violentpost-reconstruction era to empower White Americans to legally kill‘freedmen’--former African slaves, to kill them for being 'uppity', for speaking freely, for raising a hand to defend themselves against assault, in short for living in public while Black; there is the strange lag in the time between Martin’s death and the police department bothering toidentify his body, which lay in a morgue for three days as a “John Doe”while police reportedly declined to question neighbors about his identity and to inform his family; there is the conduct of the Sanford, Floridapolice in general who overtly provided protection, cover, and assistance to Zimmerman, and who apparently leaked personal information to the media about Trayvon Martin that was seemingly meant to tarnish his character and thus influence the jury pool; There are Juror B-37’scomments since the verdict to MSNBC that the jury instruction from the judge regarding Florida law since “Stand Your Ground”, essentially ‘locked the jurors into’ a vote to acquit; and there is the absurd nature of the law itself, which, upon close reading, could easily have legally allowed Martin to be absolved if only he had killed Zimmerman first, as a best possible (frontier justice) outcome—exposing the logical conclusioni.e. jurisprudence that the real implication of “Stand Your Ground” is that it is a law allowing—encouraging—Florida residents to engage inbattle royal gunfights with the survivor being indemnified against a charge of murder, though the mindset of the media, the courts, the defense and the prosecution attorneys in Florida is that the law protects ‘law abiding (Anglo)’ citizens against ‘potentially violent (Colored)’ citizens; meanwhile, on July 9 Illinois state legislators overrode their governor’s veto to vote a ‘concealed carry’ statute into law, becomingthe last of the 50 states to allow their citizens to carry concealed weapons in public; simultaneous to this nearly uncommented upon landmark in American public policy, Illinois state representative, Monique Davis, a Black woman and rabid Christian fundamentalist has called for the national guard to be deployed into Chicago to stem the ‘mayhem’ in her words, of young Blacks involved in a record number of incidents of gun violence; there are the Florida officials who didn't act to arrest Zimmerman or investigate his crime until hundreds of thousands of protesters across the country raised their voices; and of course there is the loss of crucial material evidence because Zimmerman (the ‘law abiding’ one) was allowed to walk free; there is as well the hefty amount of money that flowed into Zimmerman's possession that apparently paid for his first, mysterious media monkey attorneys, Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig  (it was Sonner who lied to media that Zimmerman had suffered a broken nose in his encounter with Martin, and it was he O’Donnellcastigated after he fled the MSNBC studios to avoid the interview he hadagreed to earlier) and paid for Zimmerman’s second legal team of starattorneys (Mark O'Mara and Don West who strangely now claim that they have not been paid though they expect to be some day when the reportedly well-off Zimmerman ‘can afford to’).

All of this, and not just the verdict in the court trial, is a basis for this country's progressives to go back to the streets (as we have been) to demand that the Justice Department do a thorough investigation (so far they have reportedly merely conducted interviews), and launch a federal prosecution not just of Zimmerman but of every public and elected official involved in what current and former Florida residents like me all know to be the long-standing corruption and racism that festers in Florida's anti-brown skin, paranoid Anglo and middle class 'gated communities' and suburbs.

The Trayvon Martin Murder is systemically tied to the death of Arthur McDuffie, and to everything McDuffie's death said about Florida, none of which has changed, but has merely intensified, and with the concealed carry and ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws has now been institutionalized and legalized: namely Anglo racial hysteria, and the compulsion some White hysterics have to murder people of color rather than tolerate their public freedom and public presence as free agents and free citizens. I could write a book about the suspicion and racism I myself have encountered in Orlando's, in Hollywood's, and in Fort Lauderdale's suburbs when I used to drive up to those communities from Miami or would just pass through onthe train or the greyhound bus and having to endure the racial panic of Florida southerners freeked out by Blacks, Haitians, dark Puerto Ricans, and dark Dominicans from Miami.

Lastly: this case ought to be a breaking point for the naive ideology at large among Blacks that we should go on tolerating and excusing Barack Obama's reticence and haplessness when it comes to racial and economic justice, and the realities of systemic inequality. So far he has made no truly decisive or authoritative, declarative statement from the oval officethat he will not tolerate a return to the segregationist era's open season on Black lives. Eric Holder’s announcement that a federal probe will belaunched  was made not in a White House Press Conference or in the Rose Garden but at the Washington convention of a black sorority—an apparent attempt to sooth core constituents more than bring the weight of thefederal government to bear.

Where is President Obama’s voice? Is he at least as useful to us as Kennedy was, who in his first (and only) administration, made a loud and clear statement against segregation, violence against Blacks, and Southern racism? For, history records that two Anglo presidents, Lincoln and Kennedy, neither one particularly disposed toward a passionate concern with the well-being of Blacks, did utter profoundly decisive words in defense of Black humanity and freedom that removed doubt Among Anglo Americans about presidential commitment to justice or at least to legislative and public policy change:

Despite the inaccuracies and mawkish melodrama of Spielberg's film, "Lincoln," the 16th president actually did bark at Congressman James Alley, when Alley demurred over raising the final decisive votes to pass the 14th Amendment: "I am the president of the United States, clothed with immense power, and I expect you to procure those votes!" He backed up that bark by signing the landmark amendment.

Despite his prolonged foot dragging on racial equality and the civil rights movement marching across the sanguinated south, Kennedy, fifty years ago last Friday, finally confronted the unmitigated ferocity of a very un Hyannis Port-like racial violence in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, and confronted the unwillingness of rapidly segregationist southern governors to accept his presidential authority.

Kennedy took to the oval office to clear the throat of that immense presidential power Lincoln had barked about, and made his first decisive statement against the recalcitrance of American brutality against Black lives, saying, "I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened...Today, we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free...It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color...One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. ” Kennedy went on, with his attorney general, to deploy US Marshalls to force Governor Wallace to acceptschool desegregation; he nationalized the Alabama National Guard to take away Wallace's fangs--the first time the true powers of the presidency, the military, and the attorney general, were deployed expressly in the act of physically enforcing the amendment Lincoln fought to pass.

The Zimmerman verdict, coming eerily right on the heels of the fifty year anniversary of Kennedy’s historic act of declaration, is a direct challengeto the principles of life and liberty, equal justice, federal authority, civil rights, and due process—the very principles that African Americans havealways had to wait on special legislation, federal powers, and unusual enforcement, to claim.

The strange irregularities, abuses of power, and so far the federal failure to speak with a clear authority and resounding declaration, are the crucial underpinnings of the Zimmerman verdict, as is the nagging question as the days pass since the verdict: Is Obama capable of being at least as forthright as Lincoln and Kennedy, neither of whom were of African descent, but both of whom were moved, for whatever reasons, todeclare federal power and push the US toward the correct side of justice?

Paul Campos, and Melissa Harris-Perry On What the Trayvon Martin Case Means To the Nation


Zimmerman saga was all about race
Let's get real
by Paul Campos

Because it happened in America, the trial of George Zimmerman for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin was all about race. And because it happened in America, the people who benefit politically from the same invidious forces that led both to Trayvon Martin’s killing, and the acquittal of his killer, will deny that race had anything to do with either the killing or the verdict.

Suppose Trayvon Martin had been a 230-pound 30-year-old black man, with a loaded gun in his jacket. Suppose Zimmerman had been a 150-pound 17-year-old white kid, who was doing nothing more threatening than walking back from a convenience store to his father’s condo.

Suppose Martin had stalked Zimmerman in his car, until Zimmerman became afraid and tried to elude him. Suppose Martin had gotten out of his car and pursued Zimmerman. Suppose this led to some sort of altercation in which the big scary black man ended up with a bloody nose and some scratches on the back of his head, and the scared skinny (and unarmed) white kid had ended up with a bullet in his heart.

How do you suppose the big scary black man’s claim of “self-defense” would have gone over with a jury made up almost entirely of white women?  But of course this is America, which means that the scary figure in this story is the skinny unarmed teenager, because in America pretty much any black male over the age of 12 in this sort of situation is going to be presumed  to be the ”aggressor,” the “thug” – in short,” the real criminal,” until he’s proved innocent, which he won’t be, even if he’s now a dead, still unarmed teenager. And his killer is a grown man who provokes a fight with an otherwise harmless kid, starts losing it, and then shoots the kid dead.

Because this is America, pointing out that a black boy can be shot with impunity by a more or less white man because many white Americans are terrified by black boys and men is called “playing the race card.”  The race card is what the people who benefit politically from the fact that many white Americans are terrified by black boys and men call any reference to the fact that race continues to play an overwhelmingly important, and overwhelmingly invidious, role in American culture in general. And in the criminal justice system in particular.

Trayvon Martin was stalked by George Zimmerman because he was black. Trayvon Martin is dead because he was black. George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin because the boy Zimmerman killed was black.

If you deny these things, you are either a liar or an idiot, or possibly both.

Nothing above requires the conclusion that the jury’s verdict was wrong as a matter of law. Florida’s laws, in their majestic equality, extend to people of all races the right to engage in vigilante killing that eliminates the sole witness to that killing.  To point this out is neither a defense of those laws, nor a claim that they will in fact be applied equally.  In other words, to blame this jury in this situation is to miss the point.

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Protests Follow Zimmerman Acquittal: The fallout over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin was felt across the country on Sunday

Prayer, Anger and Protests Greet Verdict in Florida Case
July 14, 2013
New York Times

The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin reverberated from church pulpits to street protests across the country on Sunday in a renewed debate about race, crime and how the American justice system handled a racially polarizing killing of a young black man walking in a quiet neighborhood in Florida.
Lawmakers, members of the clergy and demonstrators who assembled in parks and squares on a hot July day described the verdict by the six-person jury as evidence of a persistent racism that afflicts the nation five years after it elected its first African-American president.

“Trayvon Benjamin Martin is dead because he and other black boys and men like him are seen not as a person but a problem,” the Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, told a congregation once led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Warnock noted that the verdict came less than a month after the Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to void a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “The last few weeks have been pivotal to the consciousness of black America,” he said in an interview after services. “Black men have been stigmatized.”

Mr. Zimmerman, 29, a neighborhood watch volunteer, had faced charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter — and the prospect of decades in jail, if convicted — stemming from his fatal shooting of Mr. Martin, 17, on the night of Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, a modest Central Florida city. Late Saturday, he was acquitted of all charges by the jurors, all of them women and none black, who had deliberated more than 16 hours over two days.

President Obama, calling Mr. Martin’s death a tragedy, urged Americans on Sunday to respect the rule of law, and the Justice Department said it would review the case to determine if it should consider a federal prosecution.

As dusk fell in New York, a modest rally that had begun hours earlier in Union Square grew to a crowd of thousands that snaked through Midtown Manhattan toward Times Square in an unplanned parade. Onlookers used cellphones to snap pictures of the chanting protesters and their escort by dozens of police cars and scores of officers on foot. Hundreds of bystanders left the sidewalks to join the peaceful demonstration, which brought traffic to a standstill.

In Sanford, the Rev. Valarie J. Houston drew shouts of support and outrage at Allen Chapel A.M.E. as she denounced “the racism and the injustice that pollute the air in America.”

“Lord, I thank you for sending Trayvon to reveal the injustices, God, that live in Sanford,” she said.

Mr. Zimmerman and his supporters dismissed race as a factor in the death of Mr. Martin. The defense team argued that Mr. Zimmerman had acted in self-defense as the 17-year-old slammed Mr. Zimmerman’s head on a sidewalk. Florida law explicitly gives civilians the power to take extraordinary steps to defend themselves when they feel that their lives are in danger.

Mr. Zimmerman’s brother, Robert, told National Public Radio that race was not a factor in the case, adding: “I never have a moment where I think that my brother may have been wrong to shoot. He used the sidewalk against my brother’s head.”

Mr. Obama, who had said shortly after Mr. Martin was killed that if he had a son, “he’d look like Trayvon,” urged the nation to accept the verdict.

“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. ”Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, one of the country’s leading advocates of gun control, said the death of Mr. Martin would continue to drive his efforts. “Sadly, all the facts in this tragic case will probably never be known,” he said. “But one fact has long been crystal clear: ‘Shoot first’ laws like those in Florida can inspire dangerous vigilantism and protect those who act recklessly with guns.”

The reactions to the verdict suggested that racial relations remained polarized in many parts of this country, particularly regarding the American justice system and the police.

“I pretty well knew that Mr. Zimmerman was going to be let free, because if justice was blind of colors, why wasn’t there any minorities on the jury?” said Willie Pettus, 57, of Richmond, Va.

Maxine McCrey, attending services at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York, said the verdict was a reminder of the failure of the justice system. “There’s no justice for black people,” she said. “Profiling and targeting our black men has not stopped.”

Ms. McCrey dabbed at her eyes as she recalled the moment she learned of the verdict. “I cried,” she said. “And I am still crying.”

Many blacks, and some whites, questioned whether Mr. Zimmerman, who is part Hispanic, would have been acquitted if he were black and Mr. Martin were white.

“He would have been in jail already,” Leona Ellzy, 18, said as she visited a monument to Mr. Martin in Sanford. “The black man would have been in prison for killing a white child.”

Jeff Fard, a community organizer in a black neighborhood in Denver, said Mr. Martin would be alive today if he were not black. “If the roles were reversed, Trayvon would have been instantly arrested and, by now, convicted,” he said. “Those are realities that we have to accept.”

But even race’s role in the case became a matter of a debate. One of Mr. Zimmerman’s lawyers, Mark O’Mara, said he also thought the outcome would have been different if his client were black — but for reasons entirely different from those suggested by people like Mr. Fard.

“He never would have been charged with a crime,” Mr. O’Mara said.

“This became a focus for a civil rights event, which again is a wonderful event to have,” he said. “But they decided that George Zimmerman would be the person who they were to blame and sort of use as the creation of a civil rights violation, none of which was borne out by the facts. The facts that night were not borne out that he acted in a racial way.”

In Atlanta, Tommy Keith, 62, a white retired Cadillac salesman, rejected any contention that this was anything more than a failed murder case presented by the state. “The state’s got to prove their case, O.K.?” he said. “They didn’t. Stand Your Ground law is acceptable with me, and these protests are more racial than anything else. In my opinion, it’s not a racial thing.”

Within moments of the announcement of the verdict Saturday night and continuing through Sunday, demonstrations, some planned and some impromptu, arose in neighborhoods in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, New York and Atlanta. There were no reports of serious violence or arrests as the day went on, a contrast with the riots that swept Los Angeles after the verdict in another race-tinged case, the 1992 acquittal of white Los Angeles police officers in the beating of Rodney King, a black construction worker.

In downtown Oakland, dozens of protesters filled the streets to denounce the verdict shortly after it was announced. Some of the protesters set fire to trash cans, broke the windows of businesses and damaged police patrol cars.

About 40 people in Atlanta, carrying sodas and Skittles to underscore the errand to a store that Mr. Martin was completing when he was shot, marched to Woodruff Park on Saturday night. In Washington, about 250 marchers protested the verdict late Saturday and early Sunday as police cruisers trailed them.

A few hundred protesters gathered at a rally in downtown Chicago on Sunday, some wearing signs showing Mr. Martin wearing a hoodie.

“I’m heartbroken, but it didn’t surprise me,” said Velma Henderson, 65, a retired state employee who lives in a southern suburb of Chicago. “The system is screwed. It’s a racist system, and it’s not designed for African-Americans.”

A similar sense of resignation flowed through St. Sabina, a Catholic church on the South Side of Chicago, where many parishioners are black. They gathered in the sanctuary holding signs that read, “Trayvon Martin murdered again by INjustice system.”

“Like many of you, I’m angered, I’m disappointed, I’m disgusted,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger, who is white, told his congregation at St. Sabina. “And yet like many of you, I’m not shocked. ’Cause unfortunately, this is the America that we know all too well. Yesterday, we watched the justice system fail miserably again.”

As blacks and whites struggled with the racial implications of the debate, many called for prayer and peace and urged that there be no escalation of violence.

“My heart is heavy,” said Milton Felton, a cousin of Mr. Martin’s, outside Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Miami Gardens, Fla., where members of the family had gathered. “But that’s our justice system. Let’s be peaceful about it.”

At Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, parishioners seemed stricken by what many described as a reminder of how far the nation still needed to go to resolve its racial differences. “I felt he was going to get off,” said Helen Corley, attending services there. “He knew he could do it and get away with it.”

“It crushed my spirit,” she said.

Reporting was contributed by Michael Schwirtz, Michaelle Bond and Whitney Richardson from New York; Cara Buckley from Sanford, Fla.; Kim Severson and Alan Blinder from Atlanta; Monica Davey and Steven Yaccino from Chicago; Jack Healy from Denver; Ian Lovett from Los Angeles; Nick Madigan from Miami; Jon Hurdle from Philadelphia; John Eligon from Kansas City, Mo.; Norimitsu Onishi from San Francisco; and Trip Gabriel from Washington.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 14, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the given name of a pastor in Sanford, Fla. She is Valarie J. Houston, not Valerie. It also misstated the city where Jeff Fard is a community organizer. It is Denver, not Detroit.

Melissa Harris-Perry On George Zimmerman Verdict:
'I Live In A Country That Makes Me Wish My Sons Away' (VIDEO)

Melissa Harris-Perry shared a very personal response to the George Zimmerman verdict on Sunday, telling viewers that she felt "relief" at her ultrasound when she found out she was giving birth to a daughter instead of a son.

On Saturday, Zimmerman was cleared of all charges in the death of Trayvon Martin. The MSNBC host devoted her show on Sunday to the verdict. "I will never forget... the relief I felt at my 20 week ultrasound when they told me it was a girl," Harris-Perry recalled on Sunday. "And last night, I thought, I live in a country that makes me wish my sons away, wish that they don't exist, because it's not safe."

Panelists Jelani Cobb and Joy Reid nodded in agreement. Later, Harris-Perry quoted W.E.B. Du Bois in a monologue, asking, "How does it feel to be a problem? To have your very body and the bodies of your children to be assume to be criminal, violent, malignant."

The MSNBC host has spoken out about Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old who was shot and killed by Zimmerman, numerous times since last February. She reacted to the news of Zimmerman's verdict when it broke on Saturday night. "In this moment, black families are holding their sons and daughters closer to them," she said. "A verdict which... feels very much as though it is saying it is acceptable, it is ok, to kill an unarmed African-American child who has committed no crime."

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Heinous Murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, American Racism, and the National Legal and Political Fallout From It



WHAT A WORTHLESS FUCKING COWARD OBAMA IS!!  WHAT A FEEBLE BULLSHIT RESPONSE TO TRAYVON'S MURDER.  I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO MORE RESPECT LEFT FOR THIS GUTLESS IMPOSTER MASQUERADING AS A "NATIONAL LEADER."  GIVE ME A FUCKING BREAK!  HE'S NOTHING BUT A FRAUD. "America is a nation of laws?" IS THAT SO BARACK?  You mean as in slavery was legal and Jim Crow was legal and lynching was legal and discrimination and exclusionary behavior against women, children, and the LGBT community was legal?...You mean THOSE  AMERICAN LAWS Barack?...ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?  Imagine if there was a long series of murders in which black males, whether as policemen or random psychotic citizens like Zimmerman were routinely stalking and killing unarmed white youth on a regular basis throughout the country like those endless racist murders of Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, and hundreds of other gun murders by white racist cops and self appointed white vigilantes roaming the streets with loaded concealed weapons?  "Stemming gun violence?"  Are you or Congress going to do ANYTHING to stop and regulate the National Rifle Association (NRA) since they and their corporate sponsors, the gun manufacturers along with this country's absurd gun laws are primarily responsible for the George Zimmermans of the world running amuck in he streets of our cities?  YOU'RE NOTHING BUT A SICK DEMENTED JOKE AT THIS POINT IN HISTORY BARACK...You mean to tell me you have have NOTHING to offer with regard to attacking racial profiling?  NOTHING about the notoriously racist criminal justice system nationwide and its routinely criminal oppression, defamation, and exploitation of African American citizens?  Nothing about the stark criminality and racist mendacity of "Stop and Frisk" laws and its relentless "legal" assaults on black youth and adults?  Nothing??  NOTHING AT ALL???...YOU'RE CHICKENSHIT BARACK...AND A COWARD...JUST WORTHLESS!!!


Obama On George Zimmerman Verdict: 'Honor Trayvon Martin' By Stemming Gun Violence

Posted: 07/14/2013 

President Barack Obama released a statement Sunday on the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, urging Americans to honor the slain teenager by acting to curb gun violence.

Read Obama's full statement:
"The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin."
On Saturday, a jury found Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman had pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder charges, claiming he shot Martin in self-defense.

Click here to read more on the Zimmerman verdict.

UPDATE: 3:55 p.m.-- The Justice Department also released a statement Sunday on the Zimmerman verdict:

As the Department first acknowledged last year, we have an open investigation into the death of Trayvon Martin. The Department of Justice's Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division, the United States Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation continue to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal investigation, as well as the evidence and testimony from the state trial. Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the Department's policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial.


[UPDATE: On Saturday, July 13th, George Zimmerman was acquitted and left the courtroom in Florida as a free man.]

A three-week long legal spectacle involving life-size human cutouts, a block of concrete, a forensic dummy, and a poorly considered knock-knock joke can be distilled down to two statements from the trial’s closing arguments: the prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda telling the jury that Trayvon Martin was dead because Zimmerman had profiled him as a criminal, and Mark O’Mara, one of George Zimmerman’s defense attorneys, saying that Trayvon Martin, unfortunately, fit the description of people arrested for burglaries in the retreat at Twin Lakes. The State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman is about many things: what constitutes self-defense, the echoing consequences of an increasingly armed public, the enduring and toxic way that race stains the most basic interactions. But, most fundamentally, it’s about what we’ve decided to do with our fear.

Before the trial began, Judge Deborah Nelson forbid use of the term “racial profiling” in the courtroom. At first, it seemed that the order would insure that throughout the trial race would be addressed the same way it was outside her courtroom—that is, by talking around it. Instead, it meant that by the closing arguments it was easier to recognize that race is just part of the problem. The logic of profiling itself is on trial.

Without a racial element the trial would never have happened. Not just because George Zimmerman, like so many others, probably wouldn’t have registered a white teen-ager as a criminal threat but also because a brew of vicarious grief, common experience, and the history of race in this country is what drove the crowds to don hoodies and gather around the country. It’s not simply that if President Obama had a son he’d look like Trayvon—it’s that millions of us have sons, brothers, and cousins who already do.

By degrees, we’ve accepted profiling as a central aspect of American life. Last month, I listened to Heather MacDonald, of the Manhattan Institute, argue that, though the N.Y.P.D.’s stop-and-frisk policy may be inconvenient for the many law-abiding black and Latino men it targets, it is ultimately necessary to make business owners feel safe. Surveillance has become a fact of life for unknown numbers of Muslims in this country. Our recent debates about the N.S.A. and the hazily expanding parameters of its surveillance programs center around this same question of profiling. If the majority of the public supports electronic eavesdropping, it’s because of the assumption that profiling will exclude them from suspicion. For anyone who’s known what it means to “fit the description,” the calculation is not nearly so simple.

There’s bad mathematics at the heart of this—a conflation of correlations and causations, gut instincts codified as public policy. To the extent that race factors into this equation, it’s in the way we selectively absolve, the way that no sum of actions by certain people quite reaches the bar of suspicion, the way that it becomes deceptively easy to surrender the civil liberties of others.

None of this could come up in closing arguments, yet it also seems certain that without understanding this idea we’ll reënact this drama at some future date under slightly different circumstances, but with a common pool of suspicions still present beneath the surface.

Throughout the sixteen-month-long saga that has led to a jury in Sanford, Florida deliberating the fate of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, repeatedly said that this case was not about race. That’s partly true. But it’s also true that we live in an era where we understand security as the yield of broadening suspicions, and that at our safest almost all of us are Trayvon Martin to someone else.

Read more of our coverage of the George Zimmerman trial and Trayvon Martin.

Above: George Zimmerman arrives in the courtroom for closing arguments. Photograph by Joe Burbank/Getty.


JULY 13, 2013

New Yorker

This post has been updated.

The not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial came down moments after I left a screening of “Fruitvale Station,” a film about the police-shooting death of Oscar Grant four years ago in Oakland. Much of the audience sat quietly sobbing as the closing credits rolled, moved by the narrative of a young black man, unarmed and senselessly gone. Words were not needed to express a common understanding: to Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin, the seventeen-year-old he shot, fit the description; for black America, the circumstances of his death did.

The familiarity dulled the sharp edges of the tragedy. The decision the six jurors reached on Saturday evening will inspire anger, frustration, and despair, but little surprise, and this is the most deeply saddening aspect of the entire affair. From the outset— throughout the forty-four days it took for there to be an arrest, and then in the sixteen months it took to for the case to come to trial—there was a nagging suspicion that it would culminate in disappointment. Call this historical profiling.

The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty. During his cross examination of Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, the defense attorney Mark O’Mara asked if she was avoiding the idea that her son had done something to cause his own death. During closing arguments, the defense informed the jury that Martin was armed because he weaponized a sidewalk and used it to bludgeon Zimmerman. During his post-verdict press conference, O’Mara said that, were his client black, he would never have been charged. At the defense’s table, and in the precincts far beyond it where donors have stepped forward to contribute funds to underwrite their efforts, there is a sense that Zimmerman was the victim.

O’Mara’s statement echoed a criticism that began circulating long before Martin and Zimmerman encountered each other. Thousands of black boys die at the hands of other African Americans each year, but the black community, it holds, is concerned only when those deaths are caused by whites. It’s an appealing argument, and widespread, but it’s simplistic and obtuse. It’s a belief most easily held when you’ve not witnessed peace rallies and makeshift memorials, when you’ve turned a blind eye to grassroots organizations like the Interrupters in Chicago, who are working valiantly to stem the tide of violence in that city. It is the thinking of people who’ve never wondered why African Americans disproportionately support strict gun-control legislation. The added quotient of outrage in cases like this one stems not from the belief that a white murderer is somehow worse than a black one but from the knowledge that race determines whether fear, history, and public sentiment offer that killer a usable alibi.

The thousands who gathered last spring in New York, in St. Louis, in Philadelphia, in Miami, and in Washington, D.C., to demand Zimmerman’s arrest shared a narrative and an understanding of the past’s grip on the present. Long before the horrifying images of Martin lying prone and lifeless in the grass ever made their way to Gawker, he’d already begun inspiring references to the line about “blood on the leaves” from Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Those crowds were the response of people who understand that history is interred in the shallowest of graves.

Yet the problem is not that this case marks a low point in this country’s racial history—it’s that, after two centuries of common history, we’re still obligated to chart high points and low ones. To be black at times like this is to see current events on a real-time ticker, a Dow Jones average measuring the quality of one’s citizenship. Trayvon Martin’s death is an American tragedy, but it will mainly be understood as an African-American one. That it occurred in a country that elected and reëlected a black President doesn’t diminish the despair this verdict inspires, it intensifies it. The fact that such a thing can happen at a moment of unparalleled political empowerment tells us that events like these are a hard, unchanging element of our landscape.

We can understand the verdict to mean validation for the idea that the actions Zimmerman took that night were those of a reasonable man, that the conclusions he drew were sound, and that a black teen-ager can be considered armed any time he is walking down a paved street. We can take from this trial the knowledge that a grieving family was capable of displaying inestimable reserves of grace. Following the verdict, Sybrina Fulton posted a benediction to Twitter: “Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, GOD is still in control.” The Twitter account of Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, features an image of him holding Trayvon as a toddler, a birthday hat perched on the boy’s head. At the trial, they sat through a grim procession of autopsy photos and audio of the gunshot that ended their son’s life. No matter the verdict, their simple pursuit of justice meant amplifying the trauma of their loss by some unknowable exponent.

There’s fear that the verdict will embolden vigilantes, but that need not be the concern: history has already done that. You don’t have to recall specifics of everything that has transpired in Florida over the past two hundred years to recognize this. The details of Rosewood, the black town terrorized and burned to the ground in 1923, and of Groveland and the black men falsely accused of rape and murdered there in 1949, can remain obscure and retain sway over our present concerns. Names—like Claude Neal, lynched in 1934, and Harry and Harriette Moore, N.A.A.C.P. organizers in Mims County, killed by a firebomb in 1951—can be overlooked. What cannot be forgotten, however, is that there were no consequences for those actions.

Perhaps history does not repeat itself exactly, but it is certainly prone to extended paraphrases. Long before the jury announced its decision, many people had seen what the outcome would be, had known that it would be a strange echo of the words Zimmerman uttered that rainy night in central Florida: they always get away.

Read more of our coverage of the George Zimmerman trial and Trayvon Martin.

Above: George Zimmerman is congratulated by his lawyers after being found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin. Photograph by Joe Burbank-Pool/Getty.

JULY 10, 2013
New Yorker

In his first days on trial, George Zimmerman offered a new twist on an old truism: if tragedy plus time yields comedy, his demeanor suggested that those ingredients might also yield lethargy. By the end of the first week, he’d had an uptick from drowsy to sober, and, with the exception of a brief smile while his former professor testified, sobriety has remained his bearing throughout. Observers have pondered the meaning of his substantial weight gain—whether its cause is the defense’s strategy to present their client as a cherubic, hapless neighborhood watchman, or simply stress. Given Zimmerman’s decision not to testify before his defense rested its case on Wednesday afternoon, that speculation takes on a new dimension. Zimmerman the man may remain as much an enigma as the events of the night in question. The fixation with his girth, his inattentiveness, and his over-all presentation pointed to a truth: we long ago recognized that Trayvon Martin was deeply symbolic, but, for a good number of people, Zimmerman is, too. And whatever the verdict, it will be followed by an outpouring of support for the defendant.

On one level, it appears that focussing on George Zimmerman in a discussion of crime and profiling is as useless as believing that Paula Deen’s utterance of the word “nigger” is a barometer of the state of labor relations: the concerns are far broader and deeper than the public faces momentarily associated with them. The N.R.A.’s success in passing proactive self-defense laws like Florida’s Stand Your Ground is tied to a decades-long concern with crime that is only marginally tethered to the threat it actually poses. A nation doesn’t generate the largest prison population in the world by making assessments based solely on reason instead of emotion. But in other ways, Zimmerman’s fate, and the status he has achieved among those who support him, says something about this particular moment.

Last winter, George Zimmerman saw a hoodie-clad black male cutting through a subdivision in the rain, and registered him as a threat. There are many white people who do not think of themselves as racist who can imagine themselves drawing the same conclusion. From this perspective, blandishments about Trayvon Martin’s right to move through that neighborhood unmolested are only so much political correctness. And as a result, Zimmerman becomes a sympathetic figure, a man who did what anyone would do under the circumstances—a man whose cause can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. There’s a made-for-TV quality to the narrative attached to him: pudgy man joins a boxing gym, sheds upwards of sixty pounds, and diligently patrols a besieged neighborhood. Save for his bad credit, he might’ve been a police officer in Prince William County, Virginia—but, in the wake of a housing collapse, who would hold such a thing against him? That Zimmerman now reportedly wears a disguise and body armor in public completes his sacrificial mythology.

In a 2012 study, some fifty-six per cent of Americans were found to hold what the Associated Press terms implicit “anti-black sentiments,” an increase of seven percentage points in four years. Fifty-one per cent of respondents in the same study “express[ed] explicit anti-black attitudes.” At the same time, fifty-six per cent of the public believes that the rate of crimes committed with guns has gone up over the past twenty years, when in fact the firearm homicide rate dropped by forty-nine per cent from 1993 to 2010, and the rate of non-fatal violent crimes that involved a gun fell by seventy-two per cent. Thus the assumption among his defenders that Zimmerman was, at worst, wrong for all the right reasons.

We live in an era in which the protocol for addressing even the most severely bigoted behavior very often includes a conditional apology to the offender—a declaration that he has made a terrible error, but is, of course, in no way racist—and, eventually, an outpouring of support for the fallible transgressor, victim of the media and the “race-hustlers.” We grade racism on the severest of curves, and virtually no one qualifies. This apparent contradiction—the prevalence of racist attitudes, the disavowal of actual racism—is key to understanding the way Zimmerman has been received. His actions are understandable, even reasonable, because it doesn’t take a racist to believe black males equal danger. To bridge the gap between those assumptions and the objective fact of Martin as an unarmed teen on a snack run, it’s been necessary for Zimmerman’s defenders—legal and otherwise—to assassinate a dead teen-ager’s character, to turn him from a slight seventeen-year-old into a rapper in his thirties with facial tattoos. Traces of weed, a few vile tweets, and a suspension from school don’t usually get you menace-to-society status, but for some Zimmerman diehards, it’s close enough to round up.

An increasingly loud din originating in the conspiratorial right wing, but by no means confined to it, has begun warning of impending race riots should Zimmerman be acquitted. This is only partly about tensions stemming from a high-profile trial—it’s also about a segment of America that feels threatened. That the defense seemingly deployed every known synonym for “weak” in describing their client only makes him resonate even more with people already fearful of crime and worried about angry black mobs taking to the streets. In fairness, Broward County sheriffs have proactively begun meeting with community leaders and clergy to plan post-verdict strategies for keeping the peace. But riots tend to happen when people expect one thing and get another, and, at this point, a Zimmerman acquittal would shock no one.

The same study showing the preponderance of anti-black attitudes indicated that fifty-two per cent of whites expressed anti-Hispanic sentiments, and fifty-seven per cent had implicit anti-Hispanic attitudes—which makes the events unfolding in the Seminole County courtroom all the more compelling. Zimmerman’s mother is Hispanic, from Peru, and his father is white. The officer who arrested Zimmerman listed him as white; the jail’s intake officers amended that to “white Hispanic.” Zimmerman is not often mentioned or thought of as a person of color, but in the crime-paranoid and immigrant-hostile climate we live in, it’s not hard to imagine a person with his skin color being profiled for reasons not entirely distinct from the ones that first brought Martin to his attention.

For the moment, Zimmerman exists in a sort of racial penumbra. He’ll retain that status for as long as he’s thought of as a Charles Bronson figure for people who are or believe themselves besieged by crime, people who know well the resentments that come in tandem with fear. Circumstances like this trial inspire any number of actions, but self-reflection isn’t one of them. Whatever the troubling rationales for Zimmerman’s behavior, they’ll remain subsumed by the drama in the courtroom and the inevitable tide of recrimination in the wake of the verdict, whatever it is. Each side will take up their defensive positions, but, no matter what happens, we’ll still find ourselves witness to an undeclared war on crime and our own fears, one led by private citizens and in which a seventeen-year-old became collateral damage.

Read more of our coverage of the George Zimmerman trial and Trayvon Martin.

Photograph by Orlando Sentinel/Getty.


David Simon (television writer and creator/producer of "The Wire" and "Treme" among other "urban series") just posted this statement on his blog!...It's about time, isn't it?


By David Simon

You can stand your ground in Florida if you’re white, and you can use a gun to do it. But if you stand your ground with your fists and you’re black, you’re dead.

In the state of Florida, the season on African-Americans now runs year round. Come one, come all. And bring a handgun. The legislators are fine with this blood on their hands. The governor, too. One man accosted another and when it became a fist fight, one man — and one man only — had a gun.The rest is racial rationalization and dishonorable commentary.

If I were a person of color in Florida, I would pick up a brick and start walking toward that courthouse in Sanford. Those that do not, those that hold the pain and betrayal inside and somehow manage to resist violence — these citizens offer testament to a stoic tolerance that is more than the rest of us deserve. I confess, their patience and patriotism is well beyond my own.

Behold, the lewd, pornographic embrace of two great American pathologies:  Race and guns, both of which have conspired not only to take the life of a teenager, but to make that killing entirely permissible.  I can’t look an African-American parent in the eye for thinking about what they must tell their sons about what can happen to them on the streets of their country. Tonight, anyone who truly understands what justice is and what it requires of a society is ashamed to call himself an American.

The Verdict, and the Fallout Here
by Rayfield A. Waller
July 13, 2013

Here in Detroit I have been managing my many students' and ex-students' despair and pain for the last few hours, returning their endless emails, phone calls, and their text messages, letting them know they now ought to read the long history of racially motivated attacks and murders in America if they want to understand the Zimmerman verdict that has so shocked and appalled them.

Too many of the younger generation have been slowly, insidiously disarmed and misled by mass media fantasies, advertising banalities, blurb thinking, and PR pitch speak. Some of them are genuinely dismayed and even confused by the verdict. One student lamented, "Prof Waller, this verdict makes no sense--it's so immoral!” I have reminded them of what I have said to them so many times in class: to read the history of Eleanore Bumpurs, Amadou Diallo, Malice Green, Rodney King, Arthur McDuffie, James Byrd, Jr. and Keyarika Diggles, and of the hundreds of other victims of white supremacy.

Far too often, young people in their twenties, college age, although they know every detail of the doings of XYZ (Jay Z), Piranha (Rihanna), Dap Diddy (P Diddy), and Bouncy (Beyonce), are largely unaware of the truth of the target painted on their own backs at birth.

If there is anything that can be called positive about this not very unexpected verdict, it may be that yet again and for a new generation, there is concrete evidence that cell phones, a good conk, blue contacts, nice clothes, and designer purses do not a free people make; that our criminal justice system sees ‘the criminal’ as ‘just us’. It is perhaps in a twisted way a positive outcome that my students are finally listening to me tonight, because now it is real to them that most racially motivated murderers are NOT found guilty in the first, local trial, and that what might need to happen now is the inevitable charge of violation of Trayvon Martin’s civil rights by a federal prosecutor wielding the ‘hate crimes’ statute.

What may follow after that is the typical civil case being filed against Zimmerman so that Martin’s family can be afforded a chance to appropriate the hundreds of thousands of blood dollars Zimmerman has and will rake in from his fans for his ‘defense fund’, and now for his ‘protection’ (his lawyers have already begun the PR pitch that Zimmerman, although found not guilty is now a ‘marked man’ who must ‘live in fear’, never mind that Trayvon too, lived in pain and fear the last ten minutes of his life and now no longer lives). That ‘defense fund’, reported at approximately $200,000 just last May, was the very same fund he and his ex-wife perjured themselves over when they lied about it to a judge.

As usual, every generation must be wounded afresh to come to consciousness and recognize that the struggle for freedom and dignity, for justice, goes on and is about them, that the struggle is inter-generational.

Martin’s parents are being circumspect right now, a wise and dignified response to the outrage of this verdict, but I suspect that what will likely happen in the coming days will be an announcement by various civil rights and human rights entities, and certainly by the Martin family legal representation, that pressure is going to be brought to bear upon the justice department and/or federal prosecutors to send Zimmerman back through the wringer and then to strip him of the profits he’s earned from stalking a young Black teen and from the cold blooded murder of that same young Black teen.

If such an announcement comes, it will come inevitably, along with the sickeningly ecstatic self-vindications of the local police officials who violated their civic, legal, and moral duties by seeking to cover up, downplay, and abet Zimmerman’s crime, and along with the typical rush to ‘relief’ by those who will preach ‘healing’ and ‘calm’ with mediocre commentaries proclaiming that ‘justice has run its course,’ and that this is now a ‘time to move on” (back to America as usual, where every 36 hours a person of color’s life is taken by the police—many in ‘extra-judicial’ killings):

The glib comments meant to whitewash the root cause of Martin’s murder—the dehumanizing values of rampant corporate capitalism, racial hysteria, the assumptions of white supremacy, America’s fetish for guns and for vigilante-ism—will almost drown out the residual outrage of the mass movement that was the only thing that led to charges and a trial for Zimmerman in the first place. There will be copious and venal balderdash about the racially maligned Rachel Jeantel’s testimony being the factor that ‘damaged the prosecution’s case’, a ridiculous claim we have already heard from the zombie media and from white supremacy’s mouthpieces.

But, I predict that the additional trials will come, or at least I hope they will, for my students’ sakes.  Stay tuned.

Posted by Kofi Natambu at 10:01 PM  

Labels: American racism, Criminal Justice System, Florida, George Zimmerman, Lynch law, Murder, Trayvon Martin, White Supremacy

Below is an email from Benjamin Todd Jealous, President of the NAACP, who started a petition on the MoveOn website.
Dear MoveOn member,

Tonight, a jury acquitted George Zimmerman. But we are not done demanding justice for Trayvon Martin.

We're calling on the U.S. Justice Department to open a civil rights case against George Zimmerman and have launched a petition to Attorney General Eric Holder. The petition says:

The Department of Justice has closely monitored the State of Florida's prosecution of the case against George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin murder since it began. Today, with the acquittal of George Zimmerman, it is time for the Department of Justice to act.

The most fundamental of civil rights—the right to life—was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin. We ask that the Department of Justice file civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman for this egregious violation.

Please address the travesties of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin by acting today. Thank you.

Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends.

        --Benjamin Todd Jealous

This petition was created on MoveOn's online petition site, where anyone can start their own online petitions. NAACP didn't pay us to send this email—we never rent or sell the list.

This email was sent to Kofi Natambu on July 13, 2013.