When I heard about the murder of Trayvon Martin I felt numb. Murdering of Blacks especially black youth is such a regular occurrence that I can’t even feel. A dehumanizing society does that.What struck me about the murder of Trayvon was not that Zimmerman was not arrested much like the members of lynch mobs in a not to distant past but rather the lack of analysis. In 2012, Black people find ourselves still fighting to be citizens and treated equal by the law a battle that has not ceased since the first slave ships arrived to eastern American shores. The lack of action taken post Trayvon’s murder is the tip of the iceberg but this tragic event has helped to bring further attention to the intentions and possibilities created by capital and it’s bearers in the years to come.
Recently Zimmerman was arrested and now faces trial for second degree murder. This came on the heels of protest and outrage around the country some forty days later. We can assume that this mass response played a hand in the state finally stepping in. The laws and basis’ of the justice system have to be examined in the history they are a product of. The fact that he has been arrested and will be tried does not and will not affect the system of white supremacy that allowed for the killing of people of color on a whim.
Initially, Zimmerman was not jailed due to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law which states that one can use lethal force to defend oneself if proven beyond doubt one was in imminent danger. Sounds reasonable? Let’s back track and look at the past forty or more years in the US.
Starting with President Nixon and finding further definition with President Reagan, we were introduced to the War on Drugs. This “war” was the driving force in the increased incarceration of many Americans, especially Blacks. New laws were implemented targeting certain activities, targeting drugs found in majority black communities, and black cultural norms. These laws were racially coded as evidenced in the sentencing ratio given for possession of crack cocaine in relation to powder cocaine, the former apparently being cheaper and more accessible in poor black communities. In addition, we witnessed gang injunctions targeting alleged criminal behavior often in relation to styles of dress found predominantly in communities of color. The police, learning from the movements of the 60’s and 70’s became more centralized and militarized in their conduct. Surveillance became more wide spread, politicians used all kinds of fear-mongering tactics, the institutions of society (media, schools,etc) assisted in perpetuating a drug epidemic and the changes in policing. All this contributed to the break down and conquest of cities and communities that were once epicenters of rebellion such as Oakland,Detroit, Chicago.
The enemy became the drug addict, the dealer, the welfare queen, terms that became synonymous with Blacks and Latin@s in large part due to skewed media portrayals. The War on Drugs and the architects behind it played upon the centuries old fears and tropes about Blacks that had been at the heart of American culture/society prior to the movements which later forced white supremacy to change the manner in which it manifested itself. The common perceptions of Blacks during turn-of-the-century American pop culture and academia (and even further back in the annuls of history) went from the insulting paternalistic view of ignorant,happy carefree coon children to dangerous knife carrying rapists to people who were less than human, according to pseudo-scientific explanations, all of which justified oppression and mob violence done by whites.
These major changes were done within the backdrop of major changes in the global world economy and the role of the United States within it. Neo liberalism was on the rise and capital and it’s bearers unleashed a cold calculated assault on the proletariat in the US and abroad. It was in large part in response to the openings created by the resistance of the masses. Workers and communities had made many advances changing American culture and values. But, left intact was capitalist social relations a system historically built upon and maintained by dividing humanity into castes hiding and all out hindering the collective potential for communism. We can’t pinpoint the origins of white supremacy to the t, but we certainly can pinpoint the moments in US history where laws and social norms were implemented, often with economic motives, that brought about the relationship to capital that Blacks have had for the duration of our presence on this continent. Often these laws were were created to hinder the unity that could and did develop among poor whites, slaves,and the indigenous peoples. The material economic motive to otherize Blacks was pivotal to the history we endured and continue to endure.
It is this history,one which lives on in this present in new ways, that laws Like Stand Your Ground must be assessed. We have been conditioned to associate crime and poverty with Blacks. Maybe it isn’t a coincidence that we often hear that Blacks wantonly murdered by police or vigilantes were said to be reaching for weapons or, according to Mr.Zimmerman, “looking suspicious.” What of the murder of Sean Bell,Kenneth Chamberlain Sr,the recent developments around profiling and harassing whole communities of color in East Haven,Connecticut and New York? We can no longer say these were incidents involving bad apples,or that solutions should be about reforming the police and laws to be more racial/culturally sensitive. If after centuries of resistance, most recently the historic battles of the Civil Rights/Black Power movement, the institutions of this country haven’t become more culturally sensitive, then it is clear that something more systemic is going on.
Furthermore, the recent connections between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) further show the ongoing systemic attempt to uphold white supremacy and Capital, two inextricably linked systems of social oppression. It then comes as no surprise that ALEC was also in support of racist legislation and practice against undocumented communities. We can see a horrifying link between wealth, white supremacy,and pure violence in ALEC’s positions and how, in light of the death of Trayvon, they can agitate and make room for violent action by vigilantes.
Finally, with the economic collapse we’ve seen a rising wave of white supremacist activity from working/middle class whites who are becoming disenfranchised and have few other analytical conceptions of what is taking place outside of racist propaganda. With the effects of neo liberalism being increased migration from the peoples of Latin America the state/capital has found a scapegoat which it has been preparing for the slaughter at the alter. There is an undeniable attempt to cast undocumented folks as criminals much like blacks. This anti-immigrant propaganda and the historical/material reality that it draws from is exasperating the tension and fear brought to the fore by the economic crisis. Laws such as Stand Your Ground may only help to justify the murder of innocent peoples based on stereotypes and blind hate.
As mentioned earlier, we, Blacks, are thus in a position where we are still struggling for citizenship and thus fair treatment under the law. I question if this can ever happen after the bloodshed that is still being shed to this day in a country where it’s seems that the requirements for citizenship is a either wealth or whiteness and what jackpot you hit if both. As troublesome is the nationalism/racism exhibited by poor/downwardly mobile whites who have been dealt a bad hand by this system as well. How can we reach them? How must we fight the system when the methods of our fore-bearers failed? What use is there in fighting for acceptance into a system, where we have all been put into castes forced into conditions, where we learn what it is that capital wants us to learn (or not learn!) to reproduce our own oppression?
I do not believe we can truly find justice for Trayvon in such a system nor for anyone. I find solace in the rise in activity among multiracial groups and youth of color who deal with the possibility of unprovoked death everyday. The future and justice will be in their hands. When they move,when we move for freedom beyond the constraints of these social relations, we will find justice.