Monday, July 22, 2013

Trayvon Martin Verdict Ignites Outrage

On July 13, a Florida jury composed of five white women and one woman of color found George Zimmerman not guilty in the slaying of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. In February 2012, Zimmerman trailed Martin, first in his car and then on foot, as the Black teenager walked home through a gated community after having bought a snack at a local shop. Within minutes, Zimmerman shot the youth through the heart—killing him.

The nature of the case has made it a major civil rights cause in the United States and around the world. Yet Zimmerman remained free for weeks without even having been charged with a crime, until mass protests stirred prosecutors to indict him.

And even at trial, the court refused to allow the major issue of racial profiling to be examined, which would have had a crucial bearing on whether (and why) Zimmerman had pursued Martin. And so, the jurors never got to hear the fact that ‘Witness 9,” a cousin of Zimmerman, had told a Sanford, Fla., police officer following the shooting, “I know George. And I know that he does not like Black people, and would start something.”

Instead, Zimmerman’s attorneys were given full leeway to build their case on the allegation that their client had legally killed Trayvon in self-defense under Florida’s onerous “stand-your-ground” law. The judge denied the prosecution’s motion to instruct the jury that it could consider whether Zimmerman, contrary to his claim of self-defense, had provoked the incident as the “first aggressor.” Pertinent to this issue was the fact that witness Rachel Jeantel had testified that Martin told her from his cell phone that he was being followed by a “creepy-ass cracker.”

In order to sway the jury, defense attorneys tried, and apparently succeeded, in making the victim of the shooting appear to be the villain. Spurious evidence was entered into the record to show that Trayvon Martin fit the stereotype of a gangster—he sported gold teeth and tattoos, had been suspended from school, texted friends about possibly buying a gun, and might have smoked marijuana. The picture of Trayvon as a “thug” was parroted by the media, which readily displayed photos and documents that the defense lawyers had given them.

But none of that spoke to the elementary facts that Zimmerman had no legitimate business in following and threatening Martin, that he was the only one who was armed, and that Trayvon Martin (who had committed no crime) was the one who was shot dead.

Angry shouts rang out as soon as news of the acquittal reached protesters outside the courthouse. Some people wept at the news. The next day, July 14, attorneys for Trayvon’s family expressed gratitude to the thousands of people who during the past 17 months had demonstrated and signed petitions for justice—many avowing, “I am Trayvon!” But the attorneys noted that the family was “heartbroken,” and that they were “trying to deal with the grief of losing their son and then not having his killer held accountable.”

President Obama, on the other hand, took the opportunity to piously declare, “We are a nation of laws, and the jury has spoken.” Obama sought to deflect the mass outrage over the verdict into an abstract discussion about “gun violence.”

But the president chose to ignore the fact that “gun violence” in the United State is used as a code word allowing police forces to profile and entrap young Black men in “stop and frisk” operations. The real perpetrators of “gun violence” are commonly the police themselves. The explosive growth of the national security and surveillance industry, especially since 9/11, has only increased the danger of violence toward young Black men.

In July 2012, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement produced a report showing that police and other governmental forces kill a Black man at the rate of one every 28 hours. This rate mirrors the high percentage of Blacks in the U.S. prison system—70 percent of the prison population is non-white; 9.2 percent of African Americans are under correctional control. It is these conditions that sustain and encourage gun-packing vigilantes, wannabe cops, like George Zimmerman.

Within hours of the verdict, and all through the next week, protest rallies took place in cities across the United States. Socialist Action correspondents in New York City report that 3000 to 5000 protesters filled Broadway on July 14 for a march from Union Square. On the same day, 400 marched in San Francisco, 1000 in Oakland, at least 700 in Philadelphia, and several hundred in Chicago. Close to 2000 rallied in Minneapolis on July 15. For information on protests in your area, a good source is

Also see Justice for Trayvon Martin!

> The article above was written by Michael Schreiber of Socialist Action newspaper.

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