Trigger warning: racialized violence, details of the murder of a child.
Eta: you can contribute towards the legal fees for Trayvon’s family and a foundation in his memory here.
I recently shared the following excerpt from Audre Lorde’s essay “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference” on the AWH tumblr:
Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You [white women] fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you; we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs on the reasons they are dying.
I’ve been thinking about this quote as I’ve been following the coverage of the murder of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old boy who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a man on neighborhood watch who thought Trayvon was “suspicious” and “on drugs” because he was a black teenage boy walking slowly in the rain.
Trayvon had left the house he and his father were visiting to walk to the local 7-Eleven. On his way back, he caught the attention of George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain, who was in a sport-utility vehicle. Zimmerman called 911 because the boy looked “suspicious,” according to news reports. The operator told Zimmerman that officers were being dispatched and not to pursue the boy.
Zimmerman apparently pursued him anyway, at some point getting out of his car and confronting the boy. Trayvon had a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. Zimmerman had a 9 millimeter handgun.
The two allegedly engaged in a physical altercation. There was yelling, and then a gunshot.
When police arrived, Trayvon was face down in the grass with a fatal bullet wound to the chest. Zimmerman was standing with blood on his face and the back of his head and grass stains on his back, according to The Orlando Sentinel.
Trayvon’s lifeless body was taken away, tagged and held. Zimmerman was taken into custody, questioned and released. Zimmerman said he was the one yelling for help. He said that he acted in self-defense. The police say that they have found no evidence to dispute Zimmerman’s claim.
One other point: Trayvon is black. Zimmerman is not.
Trayvon was buried on March 3. Zimmerman is still free and has not been arrested or charged with a crime. (Charles M. Blow, The Curious Case of Trayvon Martin)
There’s a Change.org petition to urge the prosecution of George Zimmerman – please sign and share it.
There are more details about the case with each day, each detail worse than the last. Witnesses have called Zimmerman’s claims of self-defense into serious question. The police have blown off or tried to lead witnesses who contradicted his account. They’ve stated that they have no evidence to counter Zimmerman’s statement and have passed the buck on to the state attorney’s office as the attention and pressure on them has mounted.
Tonight the Sanford police released 911 tapes of Zimmerman’s initial call reporting Trayvon as “suspicious” and subsequent calls from neighbors who heard or witnessed the altercation and shooting. They’re horrifying. On one of the calls, you can hear someone screaming for help. The screams stop abruptly after a shot is fired.
It stretches the limits of credulity to think that Zimmerman, who was basically twice Trayvon’s size and 10 years older, was the one screaming for help against 17 year old boy on the small side, and suddenly stopped after firing off a shot. But the Sanford police want us to believe that there’s no reason to doubt his story, and that these tapes will, if anything, calm the growing furor over Trayvon’s murder. They will not.
I struggle to put into words the fear, the heartbreak, the rage I feel. For Trayvon Martin and his family. For all the black boys growing up in a country that persistently and perniciously labels them as ‘criminals’ and ‘thugs’ and ‘trouble’ – and is so ready to take these labels as actionable fact. So ready to see them as less than human and deserving of any violence that befalls them. For the parents and guardians raising these boys, who live with the daily fear that their child might walk out the door one day and never come back, because of racism.
This was a kid. A child. With a family who loved and cared about him and still does. We talk endlessly about protecting children and family values when the truth is we don’t think many children are worthy of protection. Quite the opposite. We don’t value many families.
Look at this case and see how the basic decency that Trayvon and his family are owed as human beings has been trampled and spit on at so many points.
Despite the fact that the police KNEW George Zimmerman went after a smaller, younger kid, who wasn’t doing anything wrong, despite the fact that they KNEW Zimmerman was armed and Trayvon was not…
They ran a background check on Trayvon Martin, who was dead, but not on George Zimmerman, the man who killed him. They believed Zimmerman had a clean record – on his own assertion, apparently. Turns out he doesn’t. They ran alcohol/drug tests on Trayvon Martin (likely as a routine part of an autopsy), but not on Zimmerman, his murderer.
The police didn’t have the basic decency to do their job and investigate whether Trayvon Martin had a reason for being in the neighborhood, whether he had any friends or family in the neighborhood. Instead, they tagged him as a “John Doe.” His family thought he was missing. They had to call around and essentially do the work for the police of identifying their dead son.
Zimmerman’s father has defended his son in part by saying he’s Hispanic and has black relatives and isn’t a racist. The Sanford police chief has deployed a similar ‘I don’t have a problem with black people’ defense of himself.
Look, I don’t give a shit how George Zimmerman or Bill Lee personally feel about black people or what their personal relationships with black people are like. I am not in the least interested in whether they’re “really racist” or not. I care what they did. I care about the cultural and institutional realities that made what they did (and are still doing, on the part of the Sanford PD) possible, and made them think – with very good precedent for thinking so – they could get away with it. And those – the actions and structural realities – have everything to do with racism, no matter what Zimmerman or the Sanford PD feel about black people.
That Zimmerman had apparently called the Sanford PD 46 times in the past 15 months, that he intimated some of his neighbors in his role as a neighborhood watch captain, that he felt free to walk around on neighborhood watch with a loaded gun – in violation of basically any neighborhood watch guide ever – is a function of racism and white privilege. A black man who behaved as aggressively as Zimmerman apparently did, in a ‘safe,’ gated community, would never have gotten away with it for so long.
Also a product of racism: the assumption on the part of both Zimmerman and the Sanford PD that Trayvon Martin was ‘suspicious’ and couldn’t possibly belong in that neighborhood. Meanwhile, the Sanford police gave Zimmerman, a man who had disregarded the advice of a 911 dispatcher to act as a gun-toting vigilante, the benefit of the doubt as a ‘safe,’ law-abiding person and took his assertion of a “squeaky-clean” record at face value.
They can love all the black people they want – nothing changes the fact that this was, no question, racism at work. Racism isn’t just hate. It’s inequity. Privilege for some and contempt for others.
The challenge now is to bring Trayvon Martin’s case to broader national attention and help his family get the justice they deserve. It’s disheartening to see so little coverage of this case, despite how outrageous the facts of it are, and especially in light of the recent media blitz over Kony 2012 – a whole campaign ostensibly aimed at helping black children in Africa while a black child shot down in the streets here in the U.S. is roundly ignored by most outside black media and black communities. It’s disheartening when the mainstream media has made a whole genre out of breathless exposés of the latest scary trends among white suburban teens, no matter how slight the evidence for such trends, designed to send white parents into vapors, all while black children are actually being assaulted, abducted, and murdered every bloody day and no one says boo.
This case needs much more attention. This family needs our help. Signing this petition and sharing it with people you know and your social networks is a step towards that. [updated] Donating what you can, if you can, to the family’s legal expenses (and sharing the link for donation!) is a step towards that. This is a situation where raising awareness can actually help quite a bit, so please do what you can to do so.