Chicago’s many Trayvons

April 18, 2012

SOME 120 people attended an electric public forum in Chicago titled "Trayvon Martin and the Fight Against the New Jim Crow" on April 11. The forum (which can be watched here) assembled family members from the Chicago area who have been directly impacted by police brutality, and connected those cases to the murder of Trayvon Martin by a racist vigilante.

The event started out with a solidarity statement from Dr. John Carlos, the Olympic athlete who raised the Black Power fist on the medal stand in protest during the 1968 Olympic Games. In his statement, Carlos talked about what he fought for in 1968, noting that he was struggling for a better world for future generations, not one where injustice was still widespread: "We were not fighting for a world where a young man with his whole life laid out in front of him would find himself dead on the ground for the crime of living while Black."

The connection between the old Jim Crow and the new Jim Crow was an important part of the forum. Simeon Wright, the cousin of Emmett Till who witnessed Till's kidnapping prior to his murder in 1955, made the links clear: "I've been in Chicago for 57 years come this September. I've never heard of a policeman shooting a white boy. I've never heard of it."

Martinez Sutton is the brother of Rekia Boyd, who was murdered by an off-duty police officer on the west side of Chicago on March 21. The officer confronted a crowd of people in Chicago's Douglas Park and had words with one of the young men. Then, the officer fired at least 10 shots into the crowd, striking Boyd in the head. "This officer claimed that he was scared, that he feared for his life," said Sutton. "But, ten to 18 shots don't sound like fear to me. It sounds like you're out hunting."

Stephon Watts was a 15-year-old boy with autism murdered by Calumet City police when they were called to his house one recent morning before school. Watts was shot in the knee and the head by two Calumet City police officers whose identities are unknown.

Wayne Watts, the uncle of Stephon Watts, urged the audience to engage in activism around the case. "We want justice for Stephon Watts," said Wayne Watts, noting that he is not in the best of health, and Stephon's father, Steven, is going through difficult times because of Stephon's murder. Steven was a witness to the murder of his son.

Howard Morgan was a Black police officer when he was shot 28 times by four white officers--and then charged with attempted murder of the four officers. Morgan was recently sentenced to 40 years in prison. Allisah Love, a member of the Free Howard Morgan Campaign, spoke about the need for activism and advocacy around Morgan's case. "People have forgotten about the power they have," she said, adding that though Howard Morgan is imprisoned, the fight is not over.

Other speakers included Bishop Travis Grant and Rev. Janette Wilson, both members of Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor from the International Socialist Organization concluded the panel with a speech that connected the cases in Chicago to fighting the new Jim Crow system that relies on the criminal justice system to stigmatize and stunt the lives of African Americans.

"The arrest of George Zimmerman is not the arrest of a system that produced the racism that killed Trayvon, Rekia, Stephon and put Howard Morgan in jail," said Taylor. Taylor also connected fighting against racism on a national level to fighting against racism on an international level by standing against the racist logic of the so-called war on terror.

The forum was a strong first step in organizing against racism and police brutality in Chicago. It was clear that if people want justice for the victims of police brutality, it will come from protest, organizing and community activism.

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