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.