Where does the struggle for justice go next?

April 16, 2012

George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who stalked and killed Trayvon Martin, has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder. But for all the people who protested to demand justice for Trayvon, we know our struggle is only beginning.

On April 11, the same day that Zimmerman was arrested, some 150 people gathered in Chicago for a forum on "Trayvon Martin and the Fight Against the New Jim Crow." Among the speakers were relatives of two recent victims of Chicago-area police--Rekia Boyd, killed by an off-duty cop who opened fire at a group of people standing on the edge of a Chicago park, and Stephon Watts, an autistic 15-year-old killed in his own home by two Calumet City officers. Other speakers included Allisah Love of the Free Howard Morgan campaign, Bishop Tavis Grant and Rev. Jeanette Wilson from Operation PUSH, and Simeon Wright, the cousin of Emmett Till, who was killed by racists in 1955.

In the closing speech, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor connected Trayvon's case to the many other examples of racist violence in a supposedly "colorblind" society--and talked about where we go from here in the struggle against racism.

You can watch the full meeting at WeAreMany.org. SocialistWorker.org will be publishing more speeches from the event later in the week.

I'M SURE the federal government, the state of Florida, the town of Sanford want to hold up the arrest of George Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder, as an exoneration of the system itself.

They basically will say: See? An investigation ran its course, justice has been served so far. No need to worry, no need to keep protesting, The trial will be a year from now, so we won't have a court case mucking up the election come November. Everybody go home and be quiet.

But there are other truths that we know. One is that, if not for protest, none of this would be happening in the first place. So in that sense, protest matters.

We also know that the outpouring of tens of thousands of people around the country in the last several weeks to protest this lynching was not because this was an extraordinary case that people could not fathom, could not believe. Actually, the opposite is true--it was so familiar, especially in African American communities, that a youngster could be killed for no other reason than what he looked like and possibly what he was wearing.

Thousands demonstrated to demand justice for Trayvon Martin in New York City
Thousands demonstrated to demand justice for Trayvon Martin in New York City (Mike Fleshman)

And we also know that the arrest of George Zimmerman is not the arrest of a system that produced the racism that killed Trayvon, Rekia and Stephon, and that put Howard Morgan in jail.

As people have said, there are so many other people that we do not know, here are some of them:

Aiyana Stanley Jones, African American, 7 years old, unarmed, shot and killed by Detroit police, 2010.

Ramarley Graham, African American, 18 years old, unarmed, shot and killed by the New York City Police Department, in front of his grandmother and 6-year-old brother, 2012.

Kendrick McDade, African American, 19, unarmed, shot and killed by the police in Pasadena, Calif., 2012.

Seron Jackson, African American, 21, unarmed, shot and killed by Baltimore police on March 21.

George Wells, African American, 29, unarmed, shot and killed by Baltimore police on March 26, 2012.

Dante Price, African American, 25, unarmed, shot 22 times by two white security guards while he sat in his car in Dayton, Ohio, 2012.

Manuel Loggins, African American, 31, unarmed, shot and killed by police while sitting in his SUV with his 14- and 9-year-old daughters.

Raymond Allen, African American, 34, unarmed, Tasered twice by Galveston police with more than 50,000 volts of electricity, hogtied and died two days later.

Kenneth Chamberlain, African American, 68, unarmed, shot and killed by White Plains police in 2012.

And the list goes on and on. Someone asked me a few days ago if I thought that the police killings and brutality were worse this year than in others. I don't know because police violence is a permanent feature in Black communities.

But I do know that in Chicago, last year as of August, the police had already shot 43 people, killing 16, and 83 percent of those who were shot by the police were African American. In an 8-month span in 2011, Miami police killed seven African American men. From 1998 to 2008, in North Carolina, police killed 16 African Americans. In 2003, Las Vegas police killed 10 African Americans.

SO WE don't really know if this year is worse or not, but what we do know is that violence and brutality from the police is always the most visible edge of racism and inequality in the United States. And every once in a while, a particularly outrageous case of racism and brutality rips the mask off the system to expose the evil being done in Black communities by these institutions every day.

Whether it was Oscar Grant, who was shot in the back in Oakland on a subway platform; whether it was Sean Bell, who was shot more than 50 times by the New York Police Department; whether it was Amadou Diallo who was shot 41 times by the New York police; whether it was LaTanya Haggerty or Robert Russ, two young Black people in Chicago, killed within hours of each other by police in 1999; or whether it was Rodney King in 1992 in Los Angeles.

In 1955, Emmett Till's murder ripped the mask off the fake claims of American democracy in the same way that Trayvon Martin's murder today is having a similar impact. Again, it's not because this case is special. Trayvon wasn't special. This was a Black kid who was shot in the chest, who was marked as a John Doe and left in a morgue, while the police made not even a single attempt to identify who he was.

So this was not special, but the gross injustice done to this boy has shown the light on the everyday practices of racism and brutality that exists in Black communities at the hands of the police and the courts every single day.

Tens of thousands of people have been mobilizing to take a stand against this. The stereotypes about Black youth that are generated from officially sanctioned racial profiling and from the overrepresentation of young Black people in the criminal justice system because of racism and corruption among police and in the courts has created the conditions under which something like the murder of Trayvon Martin and the murder of so many others happened in the first place.

While not the obvious racism of the Jim Crow era when Emmett Till was killed, the so-called age of "colorblindness" in the United States still produces steep disparities in the experiences of Black and white people in this country.

In the racial politics of the United States, we are led to believe--and this is how politicians talk about it, but also the mass media--that unless someone is burning a cross or chanting "nigger," that racism is not involved. But racism does not require name-calling or cross-burning in this country.

When the Chicago Board of Education approves less funding for Black schools and those schools fail, our children are labeled as bad students who don't care about education. And then the board uses that as a justification to shut down schools, as they are doing in the South and West side of this city. That is racism.

When employers are twice as likely to call back [white] applicants as they are to call back people with Black-sounding names, or when white men with criminal records are twice as likely to get a job than Black men with no record at all, that is a reason that contributes to the disproportionate levels of unemployment in Black communities. They don't talk about it like that--instead it's that "we're lazy, we want handouts, we don't want to work." That is racism.

When in Chicago in 2010, the police arrest over 20,000 Black teenagers under the age of 17 compared to the arrest of only 936 white teenagers under the age of 17, it's not because Black children commit more crime--it's because Black communities are targeted by the police.

You talk about changing the laws, what do you do when racism is the law? The New York City Police Department has a policy called "stop and frisk." This is a policy that gives police the right to stop you if they think that you look suspicious. In 2011, they stopped almost 800,000 people, 84 percent of whom were Black and Latino.

In almost none of these cases did they find any evidence of anything wrong at all. But in almost all of these cases, they are stopping Black and Latino men, frisking them and questioning them about where they are and what they're supposed to be doing. And they call that police work. We know that this is racial profiling, and it is racism, regardless of what they call it.

YOU COULD add 1,000 different statistics and numbers that fill this picture out. Collectively, these everyday experiences combine to convey a message to society at large that Blacks are irresponsible, lazy, potentially criminal and, in some cases, worthy of death.

How else do you explain the situation in which Rekia Boyd was killed? Can anyone here imagine an off-duty cop going into Wrigleyville after a Cubs game, complaining about the noise, pulling his weapon out, firing off 10 to 20 rounds, shooting a white woman in the headm and still being able to go back to his bed at night and being assigned to light desk duty in the following week?

That is an impossibility, because clearly there are two standards of justice in this country--one for the society at large and then one for the rest of us, which leads to Black people being 13 percent of the population in this country, but close to half of the people who are imprisoned.

And that is with a Black person sitting in the White House--which we have to say has done very little to change the inequality, racism and discrimination that remain at the heart of American society.

We have to say that this panel exposes any lies that exist about America being a post-racial society--if anyone here believed it, because it was partly a media concoction. Howard Morgan was shot 28 times because he is Black. Stephon Watts was killed by the police because he was Black. Rekia Boyd was killed by the police because she was Black, and Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman because he was Black.

And so George Zimmerman, who has finally been arrested, may have pulled the trigger, but 250 years of legalized, racially-based slavery, 100 years of legalized discrimination after slavery ended under a system called Jim Crow, and 40 years of institutionalized racism in a so-called "color-blind" society is what provided the gun and cocked it in the first place.

The racism that pervades this society is not just a product of a pathological hatred for Black people, even though it certainly can feel like it sometimes. But it is really central for maintaining the inequality that the Occupy movement has done so much to highlight over the last several months.

We live in a country that is wracked by economic and social inequality, and one of the ways in which the so-called 1 percent is able to hold on to that power is by dividing the rest of us against each other.

So in the worst economic crisis in the last 70 or 80 years, in which the banks got away with everything, they have us believing that it is undocumented Mexicans who are the problem. They have us believing that it is workers somewhere in China who are ruining the world economy. They want us to believe that it's the potential Black criminal out there that is the real problem. They want us to believe that it's the Muslim terrorist who is just waiting to blow up something in the United States who is the real problem. It is always anyone but the rich white men who run this country and who own the banks.

And it's not just the racism that they use here. We have to see this as linked to the racism that the people who run this country use to dominate the rest of the world as well--in wars for empire and the exploitation and oppression of people abroad. We are constantly inundated with racist explanations of why "illegal" Mexicans are in this country, without ever having to ask the question of what it means to be in a country that has been economically exploited and dominated by the United States for 200 years.

The U.S. uses Islamophobia and the demonization of Arabs and Muslims to justify bombing the hell out of those countries. They use the lie of all Muslims being terrorists to justify an internal regime of racial profiling and illegal detentions. And in the post 9/11 era, militarized police forces, racial profiling and creeping restrictions of free speech and the right to assemble have come together to limit the protest in opposition to the economic and political priorities of the 1 percent.

We have to stand up to that. In that sense, racism is really the lynchpin to the functioning of the United States, both at home and abroad, and it must be confronted.

IN CLOSING, we're at a turning point--not only in this country, but internationally as well. What kind of world do we want to live in? Can we continue to live in a world that is dominated by the rich and powerful to the detriment to the rest of us? A world that sees five African Americans mowed down in Tulsa, and more than a dozen Black men killed by the police since Trayvon was killed? A world in which Shaima Alawadi, a Muslim woman in a hijab, is beaten to death with a tire iron in Southern California, with a note left near her body, telling her to go back to her country of Iraq--the country that was destroyed by the United States in 10 years of war and bombing?

That is a world that we can no longer tolerate. No more racism at home, and no more racism abroad. We will fight for justice for Trayvon because just arresting this white racist is not justice in and of itself. And we will fight like hell for Rekia, for Howard and for Stephon, and Shaima as well.

I want to end with a quote from Frederick Douglass, a Black freedom fighter and abolitionist who risked his life in the struggle to end slavery in America, because I think it's relevant today:

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this, or it does nothing.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

We have taken too much. Enough is enough. Join the struggle to fight against racism and police brutality, and to fight for a different world.

Transcription by Karen Domínguez Burke

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