Grown men cried. Mothers held sons closer to their bosoms. Masses of people across racial, class and religious backgrounds took to the streets. Our communities have heard similar verdicts like that in the Trayvon Martin case. This case was different.
There’s nothing new about an unarmed young black teen being killed by white law enforcement or a wanna-be cop. What was different is that the charges of George Zimmerman only came as a result of mass national pressure, which meant that we had a vested interest in the outcome. We desperately wanted to hear the validation of our worth. What was different is that Zimmerman quickly rose to be the darling of the right-wing, gun-toters. It was a battle between progressive and reactionary forces and we were out-organized. This doesn’t have to be the end of the story.
The acquittal was a punch to the gut of a people already punch drunk from myriad other assaults:
- Like the government sequestration that has disproportionately impacted African Americans
- Like the strike down of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act
- Like affirmative action taking a hit from the High Court
- Like our kids being pushed out of schools into the prison industrial complex
- Like disproportionate high unemployment
- Like…and the list goes on.
Every time a black person goes into a courtroom, we know it’s a crap shoot. In Florida, the odds of black folks getting justice are quite long.
Florida, historically, had a larger per capita percentage of Klu Klux Klan lynchings of black folks than any other state in the country. Central Florida, where Sanford is located, is still home to less active white hoodies as well as neo-Nazi groups. Murders and assaults of blacks by whites have often gone unprosecuted. The home of Seminole County’s first NAACP branch president was firebombed in 1951 by the KKK. Harry Moore and his wife, Harriette, were killed. Even baseball great, Jackie Robinson, was run out Sanford back in 1946. Police/KKK terror was and is used to maintain the status quo of white supremacy in Sanford.
The jury of five whites and one juror of unknown racial identity came out of the social and cultural traditions of Seminole County. Their deliberations were informed by life in Sanford. The jurors were also under the pressure by their community to unconditionally protect the gun rights of white citizens. We even saw the investigating police turn on the prosecution in the trial in support of Zimmerman. The Zimmerman verdict told us the blacks don’t have the right to self-defense when a non-black is involved.
Our communities may not have all the tools and skills to address the Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, as characterized by Dr. Joy DeGruy, but we know how to organize. Black communities experience internalized oppression, self-destruction and learned helplessness, along with the propensity for anger and violence that DeGruy classifies as PTSS. The inability to break through the bubble of trauma prohibits us from seeing our own humanity. Confined to the treadmill of trauma, we ready ourselves for the next possible attack and re-traumatization. This is no way to live – to thrive as families or as communities.
It is time for activists and organizers to ramp up their efforts into realistic strategic actions. We now have a generation of new and young activists who believe organizing is only mobilizing a bunch of people to a location, usually using social media. I often hear young people say “we got all these people out but nothing changed.” Then they get demoralized because they thought mobilization was the end game and not the means to an end.
For black folks, we must accelerate the serious education of black boys about the land mines facing them in this country. The black community cannot be perceived by our youth as acting the same as racist white folks towards them. The village needs to be honest about its complicity with the social, academic, spiritual and physical destruction of black boys and start advocating for the respect and protection of our own children.
For anti-racist white organizers, the methodical process of going into white spaces/communities to challenge white privilege and racism is critical. Nobody said it was going to be easy but because there have not been sustained efforts, white supremacy and its many manifestations have expanded and become more entrenched.
For the broader movement, there are two areas that we can focus on for some degree of transformation:
- One is changing or at least weakening “Stand Your Ground” laws in the 31 states where the law exists. White people who kill black people in these states are 354% more likely to be cleared of murder says the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center. This issue must be addressed.
- Two is that we need to build a movement that brings substantive changes to the judicial system, starting on the municipal level and including more accountability at the police department level. Most of our urban centers are subject to unabated terror by cops ranging from racial profiling to the use of deadly force.
I live in the city where Dred Scott challenged his slave status for years and was unrelenting in pursuit of freedom for his family until the courts finally granted it twelve years later. To me, that’s a beautiful and inspiring example of struggle. Yet, it seems like the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Taney have permeated the minds and spirits of the city and ultimately the country: Blacks have no rights that whites are bound to respect.
Unless our inertia takes us back to the days in this country where people of color and women had no rights, the imperative is clear. We must unite the masses of people to rise up and provide a strategic plan for organizing our communities to victories.
Thursday, 18 July 2013