Justice for Trayvon and all of us
22nd July 2013 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis
Given the fact that George Zimmerman has a wealthy white papa, lives in a nation that was always intended to be a white Christian republic ruled by landowners and the Trayvon Martin murder case was tried in an affluent white suburb in a conservative southern state that has proven time and again it has no qualms about skirting the law to achieve certain objectives, it would have been a major shock if the mostly white jury of six women would have convicted the wannabe superhero of anything beyond disturbing the peace.
That’s just how Florida and America roll.
Though it’s easier said than done, I braced myself for what I knew would be a not-guilty verdict. Quite frankly, the prosecution didn’t fight very hard to make a case for murder or manslaughter and there were just too many hints that George Zimmerman would not be convicted of taking this young man’s life. Look at how long it took authorities to actually arrest the Neighborhood Watch captain and how his defense lawyers toyed with the criminal justice system before the case even went to trial. It was obvious from the get-go that the trial was just for the benefit of those who needed to see some semblance of a legal court proceeding.
Trayvon Martin takes his place among a large group of Black boys and men who were villainized, profiled, targeted and exterminated by the powers that be, among them Emmett Till, Bobby Hutton, Fred Hampton, Michael Griffith, Yusuf Hawkins, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo and closer to home in New Orleans, James Brissette, Ronald Madison, Henry Glover, Adolph Grimes III, Steven Hawkins, Raymond Robair, Wendell Allen and Justin Sipp.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Despite anti-lynching laws and the passage of major civil and voting rights legislation, lynchings continue to this very day. Nowadays, they take the form of shootings on bridges, fatal beatings, the gunning down of unarmed victims, capital punishment and even truck draggings. While lynchings were largely associated with the Deep South, they took place all over the U.S., including places like Nebraska and Illinois. Modern-day lynchings are no different, with murders taking place from sea to shining sea.
The states of Mississippi and Louisiana have always held their own with regard to racial hatred. But Florida is no stranger to the kind of bigotry and racial animus that have made visitors question what year it is when they pass through these states.
Let’s be clear about one thing: Florida is not a Red State — Florida, much like Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas, is a Redneck State. Like the aforementioned states, Florida has a long, troubled history of virulent bigotry and racial violence that may be best understood by revisiting the story of Rosewood.
Rosewood was a Black town with hard-working, successful Black residents who kept to themselves and built a community that apparently drew envy from some white residents of surrounding towns. After a white woman was beaten by a white man who did not live in the town where she lived, she decided to cover up her adulterous act by claiming she was raped by a Black man. That led to a manhunt by whites for a Black rapist who didn’t exist, the slaughter of innocent Black people and the destruction of Rosewood’s homes and businesses.
Many of the descendants of those Rosewood residents who survived have refused to return to Rosewood to live because of a very strong Ku Klux Klan presence in the area.
Did I mention that Sanford, Florida, is only 130 miles from Rosewood?
The most remarkable thing about the Trayvon Martin verdict may be the fact that many people of color and people of good will aren’t similarly motivated to act and organize when all of the other Trayvon Martins, Sean Bells and Wendell Allens are gunned down by “authority” figures and trigger-happy whites. Nor have we done a very good job of staying ready so that we wouldn’t have to get ready when something like the murder of Trayvon Martin happens.
These racially motivated murders, while shocking, are symptomatic of a deeper, more sinister problem: white supremacy.
Why were any of us shocked about the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial and similarly distressed to learn that there is nothing even vaguely resembling justice in America? There’s no justice — still just us.
Haven’t we seen the case of Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst, New York, the murder of Sean Bell by NYC’s finest, the slaying of Adolph Grimes III as he sat in a car in New Orleans or the slaughter of Wendell Allen as he stood shirtless and unarmed on the staircase of his New Orleans? Didn’t we hear about James Byrd being dragged to his death in Jasper, Texas, or Oscar Grant being blasted to death by police in Oakland, Calif.? Didn’t we see LAPD cops get away with severely attacking a handcuffed Rodney King and four white bouncers at Club Razzoo in New Orleans’ French Quarter getting away with murdering Georgia college student Levon Jones?
Have we forgotten about the rise in hate groups since President Obama was elected or the recent Supreme Court mangling of the Voting Rights Act? Have we forgot about the two Black teenagers racially profiled in the French Quarter this past Carnival season? Have we forgotten about the Tea Party folks spitting on Congressman John Lewis or the many efforts to create voter ID laws to intimidate communities of color? Have we forgotten about the forced merger of L.B. Landry and O. Perry Walker high schools or La. Gov. Piyush Jindal’s refusal to accept Medicaid funds that could have helped many of the state’s poor and Black families?
Haven’t we seen how poorly Black people were treated in New Orleans by elected officials after Hurricane Katrina, how the powers that be systematically destroyed the city’s ill-equipped public school system and replaced it with a much worse draconian school system? Don’t we see the City of New Orleans refusing to pay for reforms of its police department, the same police department that has had no qualms about murdering unarmed Black residents and covering these crimes up?
Shocked and surprised by the George Zimmerman verdict? Seriously? No justice in America? You gotta be kidding.
Old habits die hard in America, if and when they die at all.
As some have noted, race permeates and poisons every facet of our lives. It severely impacts our efforts to use education to make a better life for our families and criminalizes Black people for being born Black in a Eurocentric world. We are severely impacted by schools who disproportionately suspend and expel us, an economic system that continues to find ways to exploit us and an ever-expanding prison industrial complex that relies on a steady flow of Black people to become increasingly profitable.
Driving While Black, Shopping While Black, Living and Breathing While Black or simply Being Black are still all crimes that are punishable by death if you or someone you know happens to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In a very real way, each of us must share the blame for the murder of Trayvon Martin and all the young Black people who have lost their lives to violence, be it at the hands of a racist neighbor, trigger-happy cop or another Black youth. We have failed to continue to provide a circle of protection around the most vulnerable among us to shield them from acts of violence and hatred. This was once something that was once second nature to Black people, particularly in the Deep South, but we have become a fragmented people with the onset of integration and other recent developments.
Some of us are now too busy, too cool, too important, too educated or too successful to concern ourselves with the plight of the rest of the community. We figured that if we earned the right degree, got the right job, moved to the right suburb and bought the right car and home all of our problems would disappear. We should be reminded that Trayvon Martin was murdered in a nice neighborhood with nice cars and homes and none of that could protect him from a mindset that suggests Black males are to be feared and Black people have no rights that white people are bound by law to respect.
Some of us with the most resources who are best equipped to uplift the community often make a conscious decision to do and say nothing to challenge or offend the white power structure. Motivated by fear and/or greed, they decide that nothing or anyone is worth the risk of losing their perks and creature comforts. While we can’t make anyone love themselves or invest in the community, we can make sure that those we elect to lead and represent us either do their jobs or find themselves on the receiving end of a pink slip.
Speaking of fear, we need to organize and continue to grow to become a dynamic, energetic people that lets everyone in the world know that we will not stand for being treated like second- or third-class citizens.
Those who offend us or violate our rights should be held accountable.
We spend too much time watching reality TV, posting messages and images on Facebook and Twitter and engaging in similar activities that distract us from building strong families and communities that can love, nurture, educate, inspire and protect our children. We don’t have the luxury of using our precious time to engage in meaningless activities that do little to uplift and empower us.
Apathy and ignorance are luxuries we can’t afford.
We need to get up every day and act like we know that we are constantly under attack. We are the usual suspects, the proverbial menaces to society and the perpetual enemies of the state. This system was never intended to make life better for us — it is designed to criminalize, marginalize, brutalize. control, exploit, contain, incarcerate and exterminate Black people.
We need to be truthful with ourselves and our children about what we are up against and what it takes to survive and have a shot at a decent life in America. We need to be vigilant about protecting ourselves against laws and practices that destabilize Black families and communities and become re-acquainted with the African-centered principle that teaches us that what affects one of us affects all of us. I am because we are. Therefore, it is in my best interest to fight for justice, fairness and equal protection under the law because if racial animus or violence claims the life of my neighbor’s children, sooner or later it will return to devour my sons and daughters.
We really are all in this together.
Whether we’re talking about the murder of Trayvon or the scourge of violence that continues to claim the lives of many young Black men, we need to step up and make the world safe for young Black men and all Black people. We can’t afford to be detached and unengaged because we believe that what happened to Trayvon Martin, Yusuf Hawkins, Sean Bell and Oscar Grant could never happen to our sons and grandsons?
Like Dr. King said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
It’s imperative that we fight for justice for all the Trayvon Martins, Wendell Allens and Sean Bells of the world, not just the ones whose stories make the evening news. We have to put on our war clothes and fight every day for justice if we are ever going to be free.
That means fighting unjust voting laws, unfair sentencing laws, ordinances that give one group an advantage of others and illegal practices by law enforcement officers, judges and the criminal justice system.
In the spirit of Emmett Till, Yusuf Hawkins, Hector Peterson, Bobby Hutton, Adolph Grimes III, Justin Sipp and Wendell Allen, we need to fight like our lives depend on it, because they do.
We need to fight every day for justice for Trayvon Martin and all of us.
Are you in it to win it and down for your crown? I sure hope so.
All power to the people.
This article originally published in the July 22, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.