Trayvon Martin

Rally and march to demand justice for Trayvon Martin in Union Square New York on March 21.

Rally and march to demand justice for Trayvon Martin in Union Square New York on March 21.

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.

20 Comments

  1. This raises LOTS of questions in my mind.
    First of all, what the hell is a “watch captain” and what lawful authority, if any, does he have to accost people on the street?
    Second, you can’t initiate a confrontation and then claim self-defense. If Zimmerman pursued Martin (especially after having been told NOT to, thus disobeying a lawful order from the police) and got out of his car to approach him, then Zimmerman is the one who initiated the confrontation and is responsible for the foreseeable consequences of it. Zimmerman was armed (what’s the status of that weapon? Legally carried or???) and there’s nothing to suggest that Zimmerman had a REASONABLE belief that Martin was armed. Even if Martin HAD attacked Zimmerman (for which there is only Zimmerman’s word) Zimmerman is the one who escalated the situation by using his firearm.
    Third, Zimmerman had no “probable cause” to believe that a felony was being committed in his presence, that one was about to be committed, or that any innocent person was in imminent danger of grave bodily injury or death — the circumstances which generally allow a “citizen’s arrest.”
    Fourth, “Self-defense” is normally an AFFIRMATIVE defense; that means the burden of proof is on the person claiming it. It’s not good enough that there’s no proof Zimmerman is lying; it’s Zimmerman’s burden to PROVE he’s telling the truth.
    All this makes me wonder whether there was a pre-existing relationship between Zimmerman and the police that would result in them covering up for him. I also wonder whether Zimmerman had ever had a prior beef with Martin, or if Zimmerman is just a loose cannon.
    No matter how you slice it, Zimmerman, by all rights should be indicted for the murder of Martin, and innocent, unarmed person. If he can PROVE self-defense, fine. Maybe he can claim it was negligence and not malice.
    But there’s NO question in my mind, based on the currently available evidence that Zimmerman was the one at fault, one way or another, and he should definitely do a stretch for it.
    It’s bad enough that so many REAL cops are out of control; are we going to have to tolerate it from self-styled pseudo-cop wannabe’s too?
    It’s unacceptable.

    liberty & justice,

    sj

    • I don’t know that Zimmerman had a direct relationship with the police, but the following things might play into their… treatment of him:

      He was identified as a white male when they responded to the shooting of a black kid.
      His father is a white judge.

  2. All I see is red, now, dammit… I can’t even finish the story, I’m just so angry.

  3. Also, link for petition is broken.

  4. Renee Cabatic says:

    Link to petition not working ….

  5. I am practically numb from this turn of events, so I will contribute what I can to make sure WE all get involved to do justice for Trayvon Martin. Just in case there are any other problems with the hyperlink to sign this petition, please click on or cut-and-paste the following website in your browser and sign the petition to bring Trayvon Martin’s killer to justice: http://www.change.org/petitions/prosecute-the-killer-of-17-year-old-trayvon-martin?utm_campaign=rjisaZqTpX&utm_medium=email&utm_source=action_alert

    • Thanks, Lesley. It’s amazing that it should take this much effort just to get someone who killed another person arrested.

  6. the link is working for me

  7. If a member of my family was executed in the street and the police refused to do anything about it I would be very tempted to take justice into my own hands.
    I know it’s wrong, but that’s just how I feel.

  8. Michele Ren says:

    I actually went looking for the Audre Lorde quote so that I could post it with a video about this story on Facebook. Now, I feel like I’d be plagiarizing you, so will post your post, instead :)

  9. This whole situation absolutely tears my heart out. The reaction of the police defies all humanity and common sense. That 911 tape is going to haunt me forever.

  10. Another example of an unarmed black teenager shot to death in the same month is that of Ramarley Graham in the Bronx:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/23/nyregion/police-unit-faces-scrutiny-after-ramarley-grahams-death-in-the-bronx.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Ramarley%20Graham&st=cse#

    There are no rationalizations to justify killing unarmed people and not holding the killers legally accountable–none whatsoever–without devaluing the law and human life, which ends up promoting manslaughter or murder as permissible.

    I also find it interesting that The Wall Street Journal has yet to mention Trayvon Martin, as if its readers couldn’t have the slightest interest, while many of its articles rage about class warfare.

  11. This is an absolute outrage. An innocent child has been taken away from his family and beloved one’s because of a vigilante. This just breaks my heart. It is obvious from the tapes it is not Zimmerman’s voice crying for help…it is a youngster’s voice. DOJ must investigate and take this case since local law enforcement of Sanford, FL appears incompetent to do so regardless of gun laws.

  12. You hit it right on the head—racism isn’t just hatred, it is It’s inequity. Privilege for some and contempt for others. All to often we forget why racism happens—it happens because we are taught it and because it is enforced by those who we look up to—like our politicians and law enforcement. We need to attack—thru media and nonviolent means—those entities who let this happen. Lets put the spot light on those officers who did not do their jobs–don’t let them get away with this. They have more power than Zimmerman and it will continue as long as people like this are allowed to get away with not doing the job they are being paid to do–equal justice for all and enforcement of the law!

  13. “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.”

    YES. This is going to be the example I link from now on whenever anyone tries to talk about “reverse racism.”

    (Also, the link to the article about the 911 tapes is broken.)