One night Trayvon Martin walked to the store. On the way back he was followed and harassed by racist vigilante George Zimmerman. The vigilante murdered him.
The police showed up, but they knew Zimmerman. His father was a judge. They took him to the station, questioned and let him go. Zimmerman became a hero for right wing, white supremacist forces. He told Sean Hannity it was God’s plan that he killed Trayvon and that he had no regrets. Only nation-wide protests forced the state’s hand to bring charges weeks later.
The facts of the case are well-known enough. No need to repeat them.
Over a year later Trayvon Martin was put on trial in front of a nearly all-white jury. Rachel Jeantel was put on trial. Black people were put on trial. A typical teenager, Trayvon was turned into his opposite: a black male preying on white America. No one should be surprised about the verdict, though liberals and progressive seem to be. The civil rights establishment is at a loss for words. They have nothing to say after no better an example of the fact that the law is not for black people, the oppressed, or the working class.
How could Trayvon, a typical teenager, and Zimmerman, a spiteful predator, be turned into opposites?
Look at the interrogation of Rachel Jeantel on the stand by Zimmerman attorney, Don West. Jeantel was relentlessly attacked by West for over five hours, repeating the same questions over and over again. West dragged Trayvon through the mud, implying that he was a menace who deserved to be killed. While the strategy was meant to agitate Jeantel, the lawyer knew she could not respond to his attacks. West implied that because Jeantel didn’t go to the police, she must be lying. But she knew what West knew: she was afraid to go to the police. But that fact can’t be recognized by the law because the law pretends that all citizens are equal. Trapped on the stand, the deck stacked against her, all she could do was show she was not going to let West break her, as she said in a later interview. Afterwards the lawyer went out for ice cream with his daughters. They took a selfie and put it on Instagram, laughing at Jeantel as ‘stupid’.
Don West’s interrogation, with a nearly all white jury looking on, is the law in America. Like Trayvon, her very existence made her guilty. The law, by definition, could not be on Trayvon’s side. He wasn’t the first to be murdered by American “law,” and he won’t be the last.
White supremacy is a system. It arises from the social relations at the very foundation of this society. It’s wrong to say that if Zimmerman stayed in his car, then nothing would have happened. This wishful thinking ignores the fact that Zimmerman called the police on an innocent boy, and those cops would stop and frisk at best, or could have framed or killed Trayvon at worst. It happens everyday. But the whole point of the verdict was that Zimmerman had the right to harass and confront Trayvon because he “felt” threatened.
No matter what a good kid Trayvon was he can’t be seen this way in American society. He must be misrepresented, falsified and slandered by the system.
The reason for the half-hearted prosecution of Zimmerman is not because of the evidence. The failure is in the fact that the state was incapable of making an anti-racist case against Zimmerman. The state is product of and expresses the dominant forces in society.
When the state attorney, Angela Corey, was laughing and smiling after the verdict, telling us the ‘system worked,’ a whole mind set was revealed. She went through the routine and the charade. The special prosecutors did their ‘job’ – business as usual. A year earlier, Corey put Marissa Alexander, a black woman, in jail for 20 years after Alexander fired a gun into a wall to warn off her violent and abusive ex-husband.
Much is made in the media of so called white fear. No such thing exists. It is bad faith to say so. This ‘fear’ is in fact sadistic grievance and hate. It is black and brown people in this country and around the world who fear white rage everyday. It should be feared because it is objective – it is not simply an expression of some individuals or specific social groups of whites. It is the system itself – its laws, its police, its division of labor, its prisons, its political parties, its media, its imperialism.
Of course, there is nothing new about this reality. However, we are faced with a resurgent white populism that has only been gaining strength in a society going through immense social and political polarization. This white populism is not expressed in the state, but attempting to work outside the bounds of the state. That is what Zimmerman did.
The trial and verdict is just another expression of this white supremacist populism. Zimmerman’s attorneys constructed an unapologetic racial defense and was supported by a nearly all-white jury, one of whom called the protests over a year ago demanding the arrest of Zimmerman, ‘riots’. Defense lawyers stated directly that Trayvon was a threat because he was black. It was Zimmerman’s right to chase and stop Trayvon. According to Zimmerman attorney Mark O’Mara, Trayvon ’caused his own death’.
The message is clear. Black people must be watched, harassed, and sometimes killed. Folks like Trayvon can’t stand their ground and defend themselves against an armed vigilante following them. If they do, they can be imprisoned or killed. In the press conference after the verdict Mark O’Mara stated ‘if Zimmerman was black,’ then ‘he would have never been charged with a crime.’ He was doing nothing but putting a point on the political case they waged in the court room.
The murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of Zimmerman have happened within a bigger picture. With the world crisis the decay of capitalist system is deepening. Social and political polarization in the United States has been increasing. It isn’t only that the capitalist class has relentlessly attacked the living standards during the crisis. But along with it there has been a growing social counter-revolution. We all know its features: women’s reproductive rights increasingly outlawed, unions being outlawed, the right to vote attacked and curtailed, the unrelenting imprisonment and torture of millions of people in jails or on probation for life, dismantling of public education, the creation of a massive surveillance state, and the fast growing authoritarianism of official society, the elite and a section of the middle class. And while bourgeois parliamentary politics continues to break down, in Washington D.C., the state capitols around the country, and in the corporate offices, the ruling class, the well-off and the politicians are living in a new gilded age. These are all expressions of a corrupt, decaying society.
The liberals, the progressives, the civil rights and immigrant rights establishment have nothing to say. What can they say? This is America. They say be peaceful. But what should you do in the face of a capitalist class and the white supremacist, anti-women forces of reaction? They want black people dead. They want Latinos dead. They want Muslims dead. They want the whole of the working class and the oppressed on their knees, barely alive, begging for their dignity.
Many don’t believe in this system. The number increases everyday. They know the laws are not for them. Many are talking about what to do next. For sure we need to go into the streets by the millions. What is happening around the world has shown plain as day that a giant is awakening.
But mass protests are not enough. We must organize ourselves for political power to really challenge and end the system. In order to do that we have to build up our ability to intervene in society by creating independent organizations of the working class and oppressed. Only when we can intervene and stop business as usual in the workplaces, on the block, and in the schools will there be justice.
8 thoughts on “Just Us: There Can be No Justice for Trayvon Martin in America”
A murder trial is not the appropriate place for polemics, nor the verdict by mob.
HiFi wrote: “However, we are faced with a resurgent white populism that has only been gaining strength in a society going through immense social and political polarization. This white populism is not expressed in the state, but attempting to work outside the bounds of the state. That is what Zimmerman did.”
Indeed. In Houston there have been several protests and marches in the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict, including an unpermitted march to block a major highway. There will be another march this Sunday and in response, a loosely-organized “stand your ground” group will show up to counter-protest. Their facebook page displays aspects of the white populism that HiFi points to, including the following comment by the group’s organizer encouraging counter-protesters to show up armed:
“I would strongly suggest bringing whatever you feel the need to…to keep
yourself protected. Only in the event of an attack or aggression…I would suggest bringing arms…Really not sure how to approach this any other way. We will not be intimidated by any means. Keep in mind there are several groups that will be in our support that can more than handle any crazy folks.”
They claim fear about a scary black bogeyman, yet they are the ones showing up with arms (both open and concealed) threatening us. The police will defend them on the protest lines tomorrow. Meanwhile, if black and brown folks ever showed up to a rally armed, the full extent of state power would be used to smash them.
I like this piece but I want to quibble on two points. One, I think it’s important to note that ‘white populism’ here really means ‘white supremacist populism’, at least if we’re going to see George Zimmerman as part of it, because Zimmerman wouldn’t be considered white in a lot of places in the United States. (He’s no less a white supremacist for that, and there may well be places where he could be considered white.)
Two, “This white populism is not expressed in the state, but attempting to work outside the bounds of the state.” Yes and no. The Zimmerman trial was in part a trial over the relationship between this white supremacist populism and the state. The verdict gave state approval to those actions and provides a kind of state backing to that white supremacist populism. It’s far from the only form of state backing of that populism, of course. There’s defensive ways as LBoogie pointed out, the use state force against black and brown people, and offensive or permissive ways like with the Zimmerman verdict.
This might be too broad of a question, but Hifi says: “But mass protests are not enough. We must organize ourselves for
political power to really challenge and end the system. In order to do
that we have to build up our ability to intervene in society by creating
independent organizations of the working class and oppressed. Only when
we can intervene and stop business as usual in the workplaces, on the
block, and in the schools will there be justice.”
Elsewhere, scott nappalos said:
“We need to think about more concrete ways we can tackle the issues people
are facing that break with the system rather than reinforce it. I’ve
seen embryonic revolutionary approaches to deportations, landlords, and
workplaces. Why aren’t there more (and why so rare)? What would it look
like for unemployment, anti-social crime, loss of social services, urban
infrastructure, childrearing, abuse in the family, etc? .”
What do folks think about the strategic and tactical questions raised by scott
and how to they relate to HiFi’s final point? What does political
organizing to shut down/reorganize society look like in a period where
capital has expanded so fully that most of us exist as completely and totally
alienated labor–meaning the subsumption of our labor to capital has become total, and many of our skills are systematically beaten out of us and underdeveloped, and our practice in cooperative labor even in capitalism is diminishing (this is a small example, but see the article on swsw http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/07/15/temp-j15.html)? Where we have very little connections to one another
in our workplaces, and where even if we do our conditions are so
precarious and our expenses so high that many are unwilling to unite and fight aback?
One element that always seems to be absent. That Martin had a racist attitude towards white people himself. He described Zimmerman as a “cracker”.
Perish the thought we should discuss the fact that black people are racist too.
Laurence I think you’re abstracting common racial sentiments that black folks might have against white people away from the history of racial oppression in the US. What I mean is, “anti-white” sentiments are a response to the legacy of white supremacy that took the form of slavery, Jim Crow, the prison system, and the accompanying economic degradation that has accompanied all of these.
There’s not a history of black people institutionally and systematically oppressing white people on this country, so you can’t equate the flippant remarks that Trayvon made to the abovementioned history. Racism is not a set of opinions or individual actions; it’s an entire set of social relations that take the form of shifting institutions, practices, and ways of thinking, which all, however, had the common denominator of oppressing black folks and other people of color.
Laurence, have you read what Zimmerman’s younger female cousin wrote about him and his family. She grew up with the Zimmerman family. She stated the whole family was racist and the mother was the most vocal one of the bunch. She also stated that GZ molested her numerous times while they were growing up. Moreover, she says she was not the only one. Don’t forget that Trayvon also called GZ a nigger. So is it a fair statement to say that Trayvon was an equal opportunity offender?
THE JUSTICE CRUSADE FOR TRAYVON MARTIN WILL NEVER WAIVER.