Trayvon Martin: racist justice

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 234 August/September 2013

Every so often, something happens to remind us how racist the United States really is. One such incident is the murder trial of George Zimmerman. The agreed facts of the case are well known: at 7.09pm, 26 February 2012, Zimmerman, a Neighbourhood Watch volunteer, called his local police department and reported ‘a real suspicious guy ... looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something’. When the emergency services dispatcher asked him if he was following the man, he replied ‘Yeah’ and the dispatcher said ‘We don’t need you to do that’. Zimmerman ignored the dispatcher and continued to follow the man, who, minutes later was dead, shot to death by Zimmerman. The ‘real suspicious guy’ was Trayvon Martin, a black youth aged 17, who was returning home after visiting a local convenience store to pick up some snacks. There were no reliable witnesses to what happened between the two. Zimmerman alleged that Martin attacked him, so he shot him in self-defence. Martin, of course, is dead, so we don’t have his side of the story.

The police initially accepted Zimmerman’s story and released him. After country-wide demonstrations, Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, together with a lesser charge of manslaughter. The trial began on 24 June 2013 and culminated in Zimmerman’s acquittal on both charges on 13 July. The defence tried to ridicule the evidence of a young working class woman, Rachel Jeantel, 19, a friend of Trayvon’s who had been on the phone with him while Zimmerman was following him. They played up the discovery of minute traces of marijuana in Trayvon’s body. They produced a parade of witnesses who swore that Zimmerman was an angel and the victim in the fight.

The basic and inescapable point, however, is that if Zimmerman had not followed Martin, if he had not profiled him due to race, Martin would still be alive. Overlooked has been Trayvon Martin’s right to defend himself from the strange man stalking him. The effective outcome of the trial is that open season has been declared on black youth in America and that anyone black who resists an aggressor can be killed at will.

Contrast this with the case of Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of three. Alexander shot a gun into a wall when threatened by her abusive husband, Rico Gray. Gray admitted: ‘I told her … I ain’t going nowhere, and so I started walking toward her … I was cursing and all that … and she shot in the air ... If my kids wouldn’t have been there, I probably would have put my hand on her. Probably hit her ... She did what she feel like she have to do to make sure she wouldn’t get hurt, you know. You know, she did what she had to do. The gun was never actually pointed at me … The fact is, you know .?.?. she never been violent toward me. I was always the one starting it.’ Nobody was hurt, nobody died. A jury took 12 minutes to find Alexander guilty of aggravated assault. She is now serving a 20-year jail sentence. Alexander is black.

The injustices are glaringly obvious. Behind both lie the ideas both that black people are inherently violent and that they have no right to self-defence.

The outcome of the Zimmerman trial has catalysed the black community into protesting. All over the United States, huge protests have been held. Black people and their allies are not prepared to accept that there are different kinds of justice depending on whether or not you are black.

Steve Palmer

 

 

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