Published Apr 19, 2012 12:56 AM
The arrest on April 11 of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin is an important victory. Millions of people in the U.S., however, agree that the struggle for justice for Martin is far from over. Those who have come out into the streets chanting “I am Trayvon Martin” — and many of them are new to the movement — have come to understand exactly what it took to get Zimmerman charged with second-degree murder. And it wasn’t putting their confidence in the racist Florida authorities.
Special prosecutor Angela Corey announced the murder charge at an April 11 press conference. Corey had been assigned to the case on March 14. Conviction for second-degree murder starts at a 25-year sentence up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The Statewide Prosecutor’s office and the Sanford Police Department had initially refused to arrest and charge Zimmerman with Martin’s murder. Their pretext was Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which protects those who claim self-defense if the so-called perpetrator is either wounded or killed.
Corey opened her press conference by praising her prosecutorial team, the governor and the police authorities. She failed to say what many saw as the most glaring omission: there would have been no arrest or charges against Zimmerman at all had it not been for the massive explosion of all forms of protests from below. These rallies, marches, sit-ins, teach-ins, walkouts and more — all demanded justice for Trayvon Martin in the form of arresting this bigot Zimmerman.
Rulers fear mass rebellion
There were signs that sections of the ruling class feared the atrocity would lead to mass rebellions. For example, McDonald’s, Kraft, Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola — all companies that sell to a mass market — publicly stopped supporting the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is the group behind the Stand Your Ground laws. Billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg started mobilizing mayors against this law.
Of course, other ruling-class sectors still support ALEC and the National Rifle Association’s promotion of this vigilante law. But withdrawal from a pro-business group like ALEC shows that the mass-market corporations feared rebellions if Zimmerman was not charged with murder. The real possibility of such a rebellion led by Black and other oppressed youth weighed heavily on the racist, capitalist ruling class, which already has its hands full attempting to manage an unmanageable economic crisis.
Larry Hales, an organizer of the People’s Power Tour, said in an April 11 press release issued by Occupy 4 Jobs, ”What made this case so egregious is that Zimmerman was never initially arrested for the heinous crime against this teenager. In many cases, racist police and vigilantes are at least put on trial, even though 90 percent of the time they are given a slap on the wrist, resulting in very little jail time, or they are not convicted and are set free. The arrest of Zimmerman is one step in a long process of bringing about justice for Trayvon Martin and his family.”
Now that Zimmerman is in custody, a media campaign has escalated aimed at sanitizing this killer. It has been reported that Zimmerman plans to plead not guilty at an upcoming bail hearing, claiming that he was the victim. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Before Zimmerman cut short the life of Martin, he had a history of making numerous, documented 911 calls complaining of Black males looking suspicious, including those as young as seven to nine years old.
Whenever Zimmerman’s name is raised, guilty should be raised right along with it. Getting a conviction of Zimmerman is a justified, immediate demand that could potentially help keep this new movement of Justice for Trayvon Martin together. It won’t be easy because his lawyer, along with the courts and police, will do everything possible to get him off.
Building a movement for social justice
The murder of Trayvon Martin is not just about Zimmerman as an individual. It is about a double standard of justice — and sometimes more — that exists under capitalism for people of color. It is about how young Black and Brown people are racially profiled daily in this society, how they are judged as less than human. That’s why the media encourage people to not give a damn if these youths are beaten, incarcerated or become homicide victims.
In an April 14 article entitled “Young, Black, Male and Stalked by Bias,” Brent Staples, an African-American writer for the New York Times, writes: “Society’s message to Black boys — ‘we fear you and view you as dangerous’ — is constantly reinforced. Boys who are seduced by this version of themselves end up on a fast track to prison and to the graveyard. But even those who keep their distance from this deadly idea are at risk of losing their lives to it. The death of Trayvon Martin vividly underscores that danger.”
Staples goes on to provide the facts to show that “racial stereotypes play a powerful role in judgments made by ostensibly fair-minded people.” These lead to longer sentences and more death penalties for Black defendants and for people of color who kill white people. He also quotes a professor who states that “virtually every aspect of life and material well-being is influenced by skin color, in addition to race.”
This systematic bigotry was built into the handling of Trayvon Martin’s murder.
The system killed Trayvon Martin
What Staples’ article did not try to show is that the capitalist system needs racism and other forms of special oppression to keep the 1% — the bankers and bosses — in power in order to extract profits from workers worldwide. Legal and extra-legal forces exist to accomplish this.
All these repressive forces are known to activists and revolutionaries as the state. They include the police, the courts, the prisons and, in a special way, the corporate media. These institutions unleash naked terror when the working class and especially youths face massive joblessness and alienation.
The authorities work in tandem with extra-legal terrorists, including racist vigilantes like George Zimmerman; like the neo-Nazis who recently shot five Black people in Tulsa, killing three; like the fascist-like militia in Arizona who recently killed two undocumented workers. These forces work hand-in-hand with state institutions. The Sanford police, for example, were wholeheartedly complicit in covering up Martin’s murder when they first opted not to arrest Zimmerman.
The state upholds the ideology of the 1% based on centuries-old white supremacy that is institutionalized from the top down. Consider the popular “Saturday Night Live” show that trivialized
Trayvon Martin’s death with an April 14 comedy sketch. Consider the racist slurs against Martin on walls at predominantly white college campuses like Ohio State University. Consider an exit sign on an interstate in Michigan and a marine writing racist rants against Martin on his blog. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg.
In contrast, those who want to express solidarity with Trayvon Martin are targeted. Teacher Brooke Harris in Pontiac, Mich., was fired from a charter school for organizing a fundraiser for Martin’s family. Graffiti artists in Elmwood Park, N.J., were forced to take down a mural they had produced in Martin’s honor.
The attacks on these individuals are meant to scare away others from taking a stand against racism. But this tactic has just galvanized whole new layers of people into taking a visible anti-racist stand.
This growing movement for social justice, led by Black youths and students, is reminiscent of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s first ignited by the 1955 lynching of another Black youth — 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi.
The big difference now is that this movement comes in the midst of an acute capitalist economic crisis. Calling for justice for Trayvon Martin will more and more bring about a demand for good paying jobs with benefits for Black, Brown, white and all youth.
In the April 11 press release, Larry Hales also said: “This case is more than about Trayvon Martin. He is the face of all Black and Brown young people who are racially profiled by police and vigilantes. This case is the tip of the iceberg of the war against Black and Brown youth, a war that includes growing incarceration, attacks on education, depression-level unemployment and more. We must continue to build a struggle for social justice so that victims like Trayvon Martin will not have died in vain.