Voices: Justice For Trayvon Martin

By Arturo R. García

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And now, the waiting begins. Again.

Once again, a young person of color is dead, and hundreds of thousands of people are hoping for justice to be served. Less than a year ago, it was Troy Davis. This week, it’s Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old Florida boy shot and killed by George Zimmerman, who remains free after authorities were criticized for allegedly protecting Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch aptain.

Tuesday night, the U.S. Justice Department announced it would investigate the slaying of Martin. And, especially in light of what we’ve learned about not only Zimmerman, but the social climate around him that enabled him to not only feel justified in an abhorrent sense of paranoia toward young black men, but to continue walking the streets after bringing about the worst possible outcome of that entitlement, the question comes to mind again: Will they get it right this time?

Trayvon Martin was a teenaged boy who was walking home from a convenience store. He was not engaged in an unlawful activity. He was in a place where he had a right to be – near the home of his father’s fiancée. George Zimmerman followed him, even after being told by the 911 dispatcher not to. Zimmerman left his vehicle holding a loaded gun and began pursuing Martin on foot. It is plausible to infer that Zimmerman, not Martin, initiated the attack. The tapes indicate that Zimmerman may have been the aggressor in initiating contact with Martin. Assuming the published reports are true, Martin, not Zimmerman, was exercising his lawful right to “stand his ground and meet force with force” by engaging in an altercation with Zimmerman.

By questioning why Martin didn’t simply stop and answer Zimmerman’s questions, and characterizing Martin as the aggressor, Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee Jr. appears to have assessed the Martin case using the standards that apply to law enforcement officers. This is wrong. Martin was under no legal duty to obey or to cooperate with Zimmerman in being questioned, because George Zimmerman is not a law enforcement officer.

Being the local neighborhood watch captain does not elevate him to that status. Nor was Zimmerman asked by any law enforcement officer to assist in detaining Martin – in fact, he was specifically told not to follow Martin. Zimmerman is entitled to none of the presumptions available to law enforcement officers under Florida law. The presumptions of acting in good faith that are afforded to law enforcement officers do not apply to Zimmerman.
- Carolyn Edgar, CNN

I got a lot of emails about Trayvon. I have read a lot of articles. I have seen a lot of television segments. The message is consistent. Most of the commentators, writers, op-ed pages agree. Something went wrong. Trayvon was murdered. Racially profiled. Race. America’s elephant that never seems to leave the room. But, the part that doesn’t sit well with me is that all of the messengers of this message are all black too. I mean, it was only two weeks ago when almost every white person I knew was tweeting about stopping a brutal African warlord from killing more innocent children. And they even took thirty minutes out of their busy schedules to watch a movie about dude. They bought t-shirts. Some bracelets. Even tweeted at Rihanna to take a stance. But, a 17 year old American kid is followed and then ultimately killed by a neighborhood vigilante who happens to be carrying a semi-automatic weapon and my white friends are quiet. Eerily quiet. Not even a trending topic for the young man.

We’ve heard the 911 calls. We seen the 13 year old witness. We’ve read the letter from the alleged killer’s father. We listened to the anger of the family’s attorney. We’ve felt the pain of Trayvon’s mother. For heaven’s sake, for 24 hours he was a deceased John Doe at the hospital because even the police couldn’t believe that maybe he LIVES in the community.

There are still some facts to figure out. There are still some questions to be answered. But, let’s be clear. Let’s be very, very clear. Before the neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, started following him against the better judgement of the 911 dispatcher. Before any altercation. Before any self-defense claim. Before Travyon’s cries for help were heard on the 911 tapes. Before the bullet hit him dead in the chest. Before all of this. He was suspicious. He was suspicious. suspicious. And you know, like I know, it wasn’t because of the hoodie or the jeans or the sneakers. Cause I had on that same outfit yesterday and no one called 911 saying I was just wandering around their neighborhood. It was because of one thing and one thing only. Trayvon is black.

- Michael Skolnick, GlobalGrind

The coverage of the story—in passing on national news networks, in depth among black critics—highlights both the integral need for diversity of experience in the media, and the consequences of a media without enough people who can speak to issues which are unique to certain American narratives that those in the outgroup will never understand.

Several reasons exist for the divide in black and white media regarding how they approach this story. For one, the reasons for Martin’s death necessitate an understanding of racism that only black people—particularly black men—fully understand. As a white Latina, I can say, without a doubt, that no one looks at my skin (or my name, for that matter) and feels fear. I can understand bringing that out in people for immutable traits— I know what it’s like to forget I’m in a rural place and speak Spanish, prompting bad service at a store or “this town is going to Hell” comments from locals. I know what it’s like to see your dad stopped by a cop for having a mustache. But, for the most part, no one knows I’m not “the right kind” of white without an extra clue. People like me don’t have to deal with “it,” usually. Given that my family barged into the American history narrative almost a decade after the Civil Rights Act passed, they likely could have avoided dealing with it had they been here, too.
- Frances Martel, Mediaite

Zimmerman may have benefited from some of the broadest firearms and self-defense regulations in the nation. In 1987, then-Gov. Bob Martinez (R) signed Florida’s concealed-carry provision into law, which “liberalized the restrictions that previously hindered the citizens of Florida from obtaining concealed weapons permits,” according to one legal analyst. This trendsetting “shall-issue” statute triggered a wave of gun-carry laws in other states. (Critics said at the time that Florida would become “Dodge City.”) Permit holders are also exempted from the mandatory state waiting period on handgun purchases.

Even though felons and other violent offenders are barred from getting a weapons permit, a 2007 investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found that licenses had been mistakenly issued to 1,400 felons and hundreds more applicants with warrants, domestic abuse injunctions, or gun violations. (More than 410,000 Floridians have been issued concealed weapons permits.) Since then, Florida also passed a law permitting residents to keep guns in their cars at work, against employers’ wishes. The state also nearly allowed guns on college campuses last year, until an influential Republican lawmaker fought the bill after his close friend’s daughter was killed by an AK-47 brandished at a Florida State University fraternity party.

Florida also makes it easy to plead self-defense in a killing. Under then-Gov. Jeb Bush, the state in 2005 passed a broad “stand your ground” law, which allows Florida residents to use deadly force against a threat without attempting to back down from the situation. (More stringent self-defense laws state that gun owners have “a duty to retreat” before resorting to killing.) In championing the law, former NRA president and longtime Florida gun lobbyist Marion Hammer said: “Through time, in this country, what I like to call bleeding-heart criminal coddlers want you to give a criminal an even break, so that when you’re attacked, you’re supposed to turn around and run, rather than standing your ground and protecting yourself and your family and your property.”
- Adam Weinstein, Mother Jones

Licensed to carry a firearm and a student of criminal justice, Zimmerman went door-to-door asking residents to be on the lookout, specifically referring to young black men who appeared to be outsiders, and warned that some were caught lurking, neighbors said. The self-appointed captain of the neighborhood watch program is credited with cracking some crimes, and thwarting others.

But the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin left the boy’s family and attorneys convinced that the volunteer developed a twisted sense of entitlement, one that gave him a false sense of authority to enforce the rule of law in his tiny gated community. Trayvon’s family’s attorneys believe that led to racial profiling and murder.

“He would circle the block and circle it; it was weird,” said Teontae Amie, 17. “If he had spotted me, he’d probably ask me if I lived here. He was known for being really strict.”
- Frances Robles, The Miami Herald

Take for example this 2012 campaign bumper sticker.

The challenge in getting stuck on this show of ignorance is that most racism isn’t that visible. And because it isn’t, white folks (like the many I saw comment on this photograph on facebook) can tell themselves that this is isolated racial ignorance.

They don’t have to contend with the ways that our legal justice system continues to renege on its promises of equality and justice for all, through the enactment of supposedly color-blind policies like stricter voter registration laws that are designed to exclude folk of color from voting, through campaign suggestions that racialize the welfare system, and through sentencing disparities that criminalize Black and Brown folks for life. White folks can see this bumper sticker and never think about the ways in which every one of these deadly racial encounters (which seem to be a not infrequent occurrence in Sanford, Fl.) constitutes a “Re-Nig(gerizing)” of the Black male body.

Trayvon Martin “looked suspicious,” Zimmerman told the 911 Dispatcher. In fact, to say “suspicious” and “Black man” in the same sentence, feels redundant.

Black=suspicious=threat

White=safe=protection/protector

All these (short but long) years later, the racial logic remains the same. Black men are threatening. And murder is a proper response to that threat or a least an understandable one. Ida B. Wells could’ve told us that. And she did. But that soundtrack has been remixed to accompany us into a new era.

How does it feel to be white?

Whiteness, Critical Race Theorist Cheryl Harris tells us, is a “form of property.” In the classical sense, whiteness, like property, confers “all those human rights, liberties, powers, and immunities that are important for human well-being including freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, freedom from bodily harm, and free and equal opportunities to use personal faculties.” (CRT Reader: 279-280)

Does it feel like freedom? Whiteness.

Well it certainly looks like justice.

The kind of justice that we want for Trayvon.
- Crunktastic, The Crunk Feminist Collective

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  • Lklein1

    I am an old white guy from the North with long grey hair.  I am treated differently when I enter certain places.  I can not understand what it must be like to be black in America.  All I know is that We must end racial injustice everywhere in this Nation.  We must ensure equal rights for all people.  We must end the killing of innocents.

  • Lklein1

    I am an old white guy from the North with long grey hair.  I am treated differently when I enter certain places.  I can not understand what it must be like to be black in America.  All I know is that We must end racial injustice everywhere in this Nation.  We must ensure equal rights for all people.  We must end the killing of innocents.

  • http://twitter.com/MedeaCulpa medea

    I feel like the fact that Zimmerman himself is Latino (or is identified as Latino by family and friends) bears more commentary than a throw away line or two. I think it adds a dimension here that we should all examine. Race exists on a binary in the United States. Black, white, the end. And that’s clearly not the case. What are the structures of racism that we, as POC (full disclosure, I am another white-presenting Latina), adopt and adapt and use within and between our own communities? I think this goes beyond “White man shot a(nother) Black man” and it should force us to quesiton how skewed the power politics are in this country that, in an attempt to “adopt” whiteness (read: power), we view ourselves as better than other POC and marginalize them the same way the dominant culture would. I’d like to hear a little more about this. Of course this killing was racially motivated. Of course Trayvon was murdered. I just think the specific circumstances at play in this case set it apart from the “usual” (and god help us that this nonsense is “usual”) killings of young Black men in this country at the hands of white racists.

    • http://twitter.com/TheSuperAmanda Super Amanda

      So beautifully put and yet this will be ignored by the media who appears to not want to make White America and Hispanic America uncomfortable with the issues you just raised. I will be on the lookout for any major paper to cover it but hold out little hope. As Paul Robeson, Jr. wrote color blindness and thinking outside the box of race is not possible because of racial classifications largely enforced and disseminated through generations by the white power structure. Zimmerman is not white in media terms nor in white American racial classification terms since about the 1950s. He was adopted from El Salvador and his family deems him to be Hispanic. Why he is across the boards being called “white” by corrupt Florida law enforcement and the mass media needs to be looked at without fear.

  • Anonymous

    Another piece to add to the discussion:

    “‎[I]n appealing to the power of the police power to arrest, and to the power of the courts to sentence Zimmerman, we also make heard a message that we might otherwise hesitate to send: namely, that we believe that these institutions—the police, the courts, the law—are institutions capable of delivering the justice we want. The irony here is especially high in light of the track record of the Sanford Police Department that would, ostensibly be doing the arresting we demand. To what extent are we willing to appeal to a white supremacist police force as if it were capable of delivering justice for Trayvon?”
    “Innocence, Victimhood. Two social and legal constructions that make an almost inordinate claim both on whom we are and are not able to see as deserving of justice, and on whom we are and are not able to tolerate seeing as targets of violence. Our insistence in representing Trayvon Martin as an innocent victim is a stark reminder of how much we will will have to shift our angle of vision—to say nothing of our social infrastructure—in order collectively to regard millions upon millions of black and brown people as not only deserving but fundamentally entitled to a substantive kind of justice. For so many of those who have no claim to innocent victimhood, to have not done anything wrong, our public discourse has a radically difficult time imagining a form of justice whose instruments are something other than the barrel of a gun, or the interior of a cage.”http://www.lowendtheory.org/post/19640906873/justice-for-trayvon-but-how

  • jvansteppes

    Yet another irony of racism. Those who white people fear the most are the people who have the most to fear. How can a vulnerable child armed with Skittles be seen as a threat while a white armed vigilante pretends to be afraid for his safety? What was he going to do, throw candy at you?
    Boys will be boys unless they are black boys in which case they will be villainous and apparently don’t get to have a childhood, they don’t get to ‘walk around and look about’.

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  • Rebecca A

    The article about the crazy white KONY protesters stuck with me “All my white friends were eeirly silent about this”. That’s what makes me mad. The first to fight someone else’s cause, be a super hero to some poor people some where far off but the minute a real terror happens in our home, all solidarity is lost. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kenneth-Johnson/1508895351 Kenneth Johnson

    Born suspect,is a scary thing.We continue to stereotype Black males in this country with a lot of help from Hollywood who not only criminilizes them but  rarely shows them as romantic, loving and as human as the rest.It feeds into this type of thinking and these types of horrible incidents.They actually made a musical out of the tragedy of the Scottsboro Boys.My condolences to the family

    • http://twitter.com/TheSuperAmanda Super Amanda

      Well said. Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/TheSuperAmanda Super Amanda

    I’m concerned that some anti-racists are allowing Zimmerman to be both “white” and “Latino” in this case.  Until Black Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders can also check “white” on forms this is a misbegotten route to racial supremacy  that anti-racists should be questioning.  Isn’t getting LEGALLY to be  persecuted and at that same time legally having white privilege just a twisted continuation of white supreamcy. DO NOTE that I am not curtailing nor blasting one’s personal perception and right to be what they want racially and or cultrally nor am I racially vetting Zimmerman , I am referencing  GOVERMENT FORMS and all forms we fill out from healthcare to online surveys in which one is asked their race and then always asked if they are Hispanic too.  Some even kindly ask “do you consider yourself to Hispanic”.  No other ethnic group in the US is allowed this type of duality and it is absolutely bankrupt.  I do not blame Hispanic Americans for creating government census forms but the only thing seemingly to be gained via this is more hatred between Black and Hispanic Americans, incorrect statistics for law enforcement and other public sectors and the carrot of ultra whiteness . Anti-racism needs to start examining these issues-especially with Hispanics due to be the US  majority within a few decades. ALL majorities need to be monitored.

     Zimmerman is clearly not white to white racist America yet  he clearly wanted to be white which is why he  specifically  targeted Black  youth.  I see white racists all the time who could pass for other stuff. Al Jolson was a very dark Lithuanian Jewish man who came to the US and mocked Blacks with sickening stereotypes and in the process became an ultra white  icon to this day to  white supremacists the world  over.  That same kind of “racial alchemy”  is what we are seeing in Florida. We all know in the South that being white is to be the ruler. Zimmerman’s father can claim this and that about some “multicultural” background which supposedly absolves his son of “ever being racist” and “never racial profiling”  but nothing-not even the racial and cultural confusion he most likely experienced in his life- absolves Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin in cold blood.

  • k.eli

    As a Florida resident, this story really hits home. I knew that idiotic NRA-pushed Stand Your Ground law was a huge mistake when it passed 6 years ago and now this. And yet, this isn’t even the first abuse of the law – according to a local newspaper, “justifiable” homicide rates in Florida have nearly tripled since the SYG law took effect in 2005. I have a brother just a year shy of Trayvon’s age and it scares me to think some yahoo with a gun can murder him in cold blood and get away with it. I want to be hopeful about this case but then I have to remind myself that this is Florida – a.k.a. the state that knowingly elected a man who was indicted on 95 counts of Medicare fraud (the biggest such case in history) as governor. 

    To top it off, this occurred in Sanford County where the police department has in no uncertain terms indicated that they have no desire whatsoever to prosecute or even investigate this case. In fact, they originally weren’t going to release the 911 calls but finally gave way after facing increasing heat from the public.  That Trayvon’s body laid in the morgue for 3 days without anyone bothering to contact his family to tell them he was dead is a level of unspeakable cruelty I can’t even comprehend. This whole situation has made me so angry and upset and I just pray to God that Zimmerman will pay for his crimes. 

    Oh, and by the way, Zimmerman’s father wrote a letter stating that his son is not a racist because he’s Hispanic and grew up in a multi-racial home. Because apparently POC can’t be racist *eyeroll*.

    • Keith

       For the record Latino/Hispanic is not a racial category. I worked for the census in 2010 and they emphasized this to us.

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  • Ee

    Maybe it is just the circles I run it but I’ve seen more of my white friends posting about Trayvon than about Kony. I still agree that we need to do more. This shouldn’t be an issue that only the black community is tasked with responding to.

  • http://DeadAmericanDream.blogspot.com AngryBroomstick

    I am so glad the Dept of Justice is going to investigate this. I am happy to see a lot of outrage over the murder of Trayvon Martin. I cried when I first heard about this on Gawker. Poor boy, may God rest his soul.

    There’s a new article out about his last phone call with his 16 years old friend, who urged him to run from Zimmerman. He sounded so scared and terrified. I feel mortified for his parents who have had to listen to this phone call.

    http://gma.yahoo.com/trayvon-martin-killing-friend-phone-teen-death-recounts-063243901–abc-news.html

    This is evidence that white privilege exists. A white 17 years old boy can easily walk around in the same neighborhood and feel secure for his life. A young black boy can’t. A white man can shoot and murder a young black boy and cite self defense. A black man can’t shoot and murder a young white boy and cite self-defense, becuase we all know he’d get charged and arrested and put in jail right away.

    RIP Trayvon Martin… 

  • Anonymous

    Aside from Zimmerman getting off with the crime, my biggest fear is that  simmering interest and outrage in this case from those outside the black community and specifically among white Americans will only be confined to this instance and not lead to a serious discussion on racial profiling in this country. While I often see an acknowledgement that race is “probably” a factor in mainstream news articles about this murder there is a hesitancy to link this to a broader story of the many who have been injured and killed for “existing while black”. If this had been a police officer who shot Trayvon, I don’t even think we’d be hearing about it on the scale we are despite the fact that this kind of behavior is rampant among law enforcement. The focus by many writers is on the “stand your ground” law and not on what made a young black man walking down the street a crime and offense in the eyes of so many to begin with. I fear that even if Zimmerman is finally arrested and given the harshest sentence possible, the broader conversation will be lost and inevitably something similar will happen again.

    • Brandon

      You’re right.  But maybe this is a way to start that conversation.  Anecdotal evidence can be powerful, and this has the potential to put a human face on the issue of profiling.

    • http://twitter.com/TheSuperAmanda Super Amanda

      Good point. The broader conversation is that a Black life is worthless in the US and most of the world.

      • http://www.hvcramond.com/ Hvcramond

         Amanda, I agree.  This article about Chris Brown and Rhianna

        http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-02-25/news/ct-perspec-0226-violence-20120225_1_chris-brown-relationship-abuse-graphic-case

        mentions how easily those who beat up women are welcomed back into the sports/ entertainment world, while Michael Vick had a more difficult time.  This is not to excuse Vick, but we seem to value dogs more than women in this country, and people of color are not valued at all.  For many, if the injustice doesn’t impact their daily lives, it’s easier to just turn back to E! and see what Kim Kardashian is up to than to acknowledge there is real work to be done.

        • http://twitter.com/TheSuperAmanda Super Amanda

          Absolutely. A man who killed a kitten was given more time in SF-actually any time. Real work has to be done. Tommy Hilfiger just had a fire in his sweatshop which enslaves POC to cloth POC. 

      • http://www.hvcramond.com/ Hvcramond

         Amanda, I agree.  This article about Chris Brown and Rhianna

        http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-02-25/news/ct-perspec-0226-violence-20120225_1_chris-brown-relationship-abuse-graphic-case

        mentions how easily those who beat up women are welcomed back into the sports/ entertainment world, while Michael Vick had a more difficult time.  This is not to excuse Vick, but we seem to value dogs more than women in this country, and people of color are not valued at all.  For many, if the injustice doesn’t impact their daily lives, it’s easier to just turn back to E! and see what Kim Kardashian is up to than to acknowledge there is real work to be done.