Angry Negro Thoughts on Trayvon Martin
|March 22, 2012||Posted by admin under Musings||
By now you’ve probably seen the Trayvon Martin killing analyzed from every possible angle. Instead of offering up another piece comparing my own experiences in a gated community or stating the all too obvious reasons why George Zimmerman should be arrested and Chief Bill Lee should be fired, here are a series of raw, frustrated mini essays inspired by Emmett Till 2k12.
Taking Justice into Our Own Hands
The Huffington Post Black Voices is reporting that The New Black Liberation Militia is planning to arrest George Zimmerman if the police don’t take action. For their part, Trayvon Martin’s family has dissuaded these efforts for vigilante justice. Still, it begs the question of whether the only way to fight a racist justice system is to take the law into our own hands. Black people have been screaming for our humanity to be protected since we were brought to this country. Occasionally a story gets national attention, but nothing has been done to correct the justice system’s callous disregard for our lives. Sadly, the mainstream only seems to pay serious attention when riots break out. This does nothing to dispel racist associations of Blackness with danger, but how much dehumanization can any group of people be expected to take without reacting in kind? Harriet Tubman didn’t free slaves by asking the master if she could take them away. Toussaint L’Overture didn’t liberate Haiti by asking for Napoleon’s permission. I’d like to think society has learned from history but 400 years of second class citizenship makes me wonder when people are going to decide their only option is to burn everything down.
Why does Trayvon have to be model citizen for people to care? Black males getting shot for no reason is nothing new, wherever you go in this country (If you’re in Portland you should be familiar with the cases of Keaton Otis and Aaron Campbell). Still, Trayvon Martin has become a national phenomenon, partly due to his upstanding character, as if that gives him more humanity than anyone else. Talking heads have continued to play up how Martin was an A and B student who “majored in cheerfulness”. While this is good to know, it doesn’t make him anymore human than Ramarley Graham, who was shot to death while trying to flush a bag of marijuana after police ran into his grandmother’s home. Where were all these newly outraged people when Graham was executed? Remember, Zimmerman claimed Martin was suspicious (listen to the tapes here) and looked like “he was on drugs” because he was wearing a hoodie, looking around at houses and reaching at his waistband. None of these are crimes nor justify police attention, never mind lethal force. However, any knocks on a Black person’s character seem to excuse taking away his/her humanity. This thought process affects all races. For example, although Rosa Parks is considered the pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith refused to give up their seats on buses before her. Activists chose not to take up Colvin or Smith’s cases because the girls weren’t poster children for the movement. Whenever I watch news stories of white teens dying in drunken driving accidents or drug overdoses, the media goes to great lengths to talk about how they were great people and that they shouldn’t be defined by their flaws. Why can’t Black people (and especially Black youth) be afforded the same benefit of the doubt?
Maybe Zimmerman is an Informant
While the ineptitude of the Sanford Police Department evokes the history of Jim Crow justice, I have legitimate concerns that the issue could be even deeper. What if George Zimmerman is an informant? Zimmerman is far from an isolated case of vigilante (in)justice. There has been an uptick of vigilantes and self appointed border patrolmen in states like Arizona. Perhaps the most frightening example was Shawna Forde, who was sentenced to death last year for the home invasion and murder of a Latino father and his nine year old daughter. The obvious difference between Forde and Zimmerman is that one was brought to justice. Zimmerman has been protected to unreasonable lengths by the Sanford Police, despite mountains of evidence that contradict his story and a police record that includes assaulting a police offer. The shielding of Zimmerman from the justice system is consistent with how officers protect their informants, who are often convicts trying to get leniency. Consider the case of Gary Thomas Rowe, an informant for late FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover. Rowe was allowed to beat civil rights workers with blackjacks, chains and pistols, as well as witness their murders without intervening, so he could spy on white supremacist groups. By all accounts, he was a criminal but was never brought to justice because he had the blessing of the FBI. Use of informants is as widespread as ever today, most glaringly in sting operations directed at Muslims like the Newburgh Four. It wouldn’t surprise me if the police were protecting Zimmerman for these cynical reasons as well as their obvious racism.
Why Did the Media Coverage Take So Long?
Why did it take the news two weeks to care? Since the news of Trayvon Martin’s lynching appeared online weeks ago, many people have been using social media to spread the word and spur on action. Nonetheless, the national news didn’t pick up the story until this week. Even liberal champions like Democracy Now were mum during the initial weeks of the story. I get a bittersweet feeling when I watch Rollo Goodlove, excuse me, Al Sharpton get on TV with Martin’s father and wax poetic about how he stands with the family, even though he spent all of last week talking about Mitt Romney and the Republican circus. The news media serves as this country’s agenda setter and it’s no coincidence that Martin’s case gained serious traction once the national news picked it up. Still, why did they have to wait two weeks to spur on a fight for justice? This echoes the coverage of Troy Davis’ execution last year. Davis’ plight had been in the news for years but major networks only stepped in on the eve of his death. Perhaps if they had said something even a year earlier, it might’ve helped save Davis’ life. If a major news network had picked up Martin’s story the day it came out, as opposed to KONY 2012 or a Rick Santorum soundbite, maybe Zimmerman would’ve been arrested by now. Instead, a murderer is walking the streets and the police force that has protected him continues to run Sanford. Is sensationalism worth the loss of innocent lives?
Don’t tell me Obama can’t comment because this is a local issue. The President spoke out when Henry Louis Gates Jr., a black millionaire, was arrested for “breaking into” his own house. He said the police acted stupidly and called a “beer summit”. Conservatives hammered him for it but that should not have been an excuse for Obama to shy away from speaking on race. Nonetheless, he has also had the time to call Kanye West a “jackass” for interrupting Taylor Swift at the MTV Awards. It seems as if there is a million dollar membership fee for Obama to care about your Black humanity. In fact, when Obama addresses everyday Black people, it is often condescending. Take for example, his speech telling Black men to be better fathers or his address to the Congressional Black Caucus to “stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying.” Why is it that our first Black President can comment on Black millionaires and scold the rest of Black America but can’t speak on an Emmett Till like lynching that is happening under his watch? The fact is that vigilante justice is a problem throughout the country. For Obama to pretend like this is a local issue is a clear statement that he refuses to have Black people’s back even though we’ve been his most loyal and least demanding constituency, despite epidemic unemployment rates in the Black community and the continued use of Blacks as a punching bag in political rhetoric and policies.
After this incident I think we can officially classify “vigilante” as the new codeword for white people when they’re being profiled. We’re all pretty familiar with who police and politicians are really talking about when they refer to “drug criminals”, “terrorists” and “illegal immigrants”. Considering that the US was built on white terrorism, it seems unfair that whites don’t have their own codeword to be reflexively associated with. Vigilante justice has been a hallmark of the Ku Klux Klan and all of the shadowy white supremacist and militia groups that have continued their legacy to this day. As a Black man who lives in a predominantly white suburb, it seems fair that the same police who profile me for “driving around a corner suspiciously” should afford the same treatment to those who fit the description of people that could lynch me. Vigilantes have proven to be an international problem, as evidenced by everyone from Anders Brevik to Robert Bales to Shawna Forde. If any other race of people had consistently been the perpetrators in these crimes, the news would’ve had a codeword for them years ago. Not to mention, there is a major profit incentive for white profiling. Corrections Corporation of America is set to make an obscene amount of money after sponsoring legislation for harsher immigration laws in states like Arizona and Alabama. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, the undocumented immigrant population was about 11 million, as of 2008. In comparison, there were 223,553,265 people that fit the description of “vigilantes”, as of 2010. Imagine how much money prisons could make if they started cracking down on this vast, untapped resource.