Revolution #265, April 8, 2012
Justice for Trayvon Martin is NOT a “Black People’s Issue”; If You Don’t Fight for It, You Lose Your Humanity!
A glance at any of the thousands of photos of the recent protests demanding justice for Trayvon Martin reveals that this case has struck a deep chord among Black people of all ages. At the same time, these photos reveal how white people and other non-Blacks have almost entirely ignored and appeared to have gone along with this modern-day lynching.
Yes, it was a lynching. It began the moment George Zimmerman decided that a Black youth walking home from the store carrying Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea must be up to no good. It continued with Zimmerman’s decision to ignore the 911 dispatcher's instructions to not follow Trayvon. It was sanctioned by the state when law enforcement refused to arrest the man who murdered Trayvon, readily accepting his claim of self-defense. And it was rationalized throughout society as the mass media released “evidence” from the murdered youth’s school record of suspensions(!) to portray him as dangerous and suspicious.
Yet, according to a recent Gallup poll, while the majority of Black people were sure that racial bias played a role in the killing of Trayvon, only 1/3 of non-Blacks felt this was the case; while the majority of Black people felt Trayvon’s killer had definitely commited a crime, only 11 percent of non-Blacks felt this way; and while the majority of Black people were following this case “very closely” only 22 percent of non-Blacks were bothering to do so.
The stubborn refusal on the part of non-Blacks to recognize and act against the grotesque racism and injustice in the killing of Trayvon Martin is an indicator of how they have bought into the very demonization and criminalization of Black people that not only fueled the killing of Trayvon, but also fuels the slow genocide being carried out currently against Black people through mass incarceration and the criminal IN-justice system.
Yes, I said genocide. And, yes, I used the present tense.
Genocide often ends with mass extermination, but that is not where it begins. It begins with the stigmatization and demonization of a whole section of people; this conditions society to go along with what ever is done to those people. It often includes physically isolating that group of people, as well as systematic discrimination, control and repression. Killing those people off—or otherwise destroying them, such as through mass incarceration—is often just the logical conclusion of the momentum and direction which has been built up over time.
This can happen slowly or this can happen quickly, but there is no denying that this is currently taking place at an accelerating pace against Black people in the U.S. At the hands of the police, in the media, and in much of the culture, Black people are treated as criminals first and human beings second. Most Blacks are concentrated in the most impoverished neighborhoods. More Black men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began. And Black people are killed with impunity almost every day by cops and wannabe cops. The fact that you may not know all of this only underscores how “normalized” this has become and how far this has progressed.
It's simply a fact that this country has white supremacy woven into its foundation and daily functioning. The U.S. would not have the wealth, the military strength, or the territorial reach that it does if it weren't for generations of the enslavement of Black people. After the abolition of slavery, which took a wrenching and bloody Civil War, Black people were betrayed by this system and forced to endure 100 years of Jim Crow segregation and Ku Klux Klan terror. This only ended through the massive struggle and sacrifice of a generation of civil rights freedom fighters and, later, the Black Liberation Movement. But because a revolution did not happen, because this system remained intact, these advances were betrayed once again. The system found new ways to continue the caste-like oppression of Black people.
Having been rocked back on their heels by the revolutionary upsurges of the '60s, including especially powerfully the struggle for Black Liberation, the rulers of this system set about quite consciously to criminalize and suppress Black people. They did this as a form of counterinsurgency, a pre-emptive response to the threat of any future insurgency. In 1969, H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s top assistant, wrote in his diary that “[President Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
Today's mass incarceration of Black people can be directly traced to the policies that grew out of that statement. As can the constant portrayal in the media and the culture of Black youth as almost always as frightening, heartless, criminals (think of the proliferation of cop shows!).
All of this feeds into a situation where, when the media aired weeks of blatant propaganda aimed at demonizing Trayvon—things like his having been suspended from high school or found in possession of a baggie with marijuana residue in it—all too many non-Black people began to rethink their initial sympathy for Trayvon.
And yet, all this is also why, in the face of the very same racist propaganda, millions of Black people identify with the truth of these words from Trayvon's mother, Sybrina Fulton: “They killed my son and now they’re trying to kill his reputation.”
Last week, at a discussion I led at Revolution Books in NYC about the murder of Trayvon Martin and the strategy for revolution, several young Black men described having been schooled by their mothers about how to conduct themselves during interactions with police if they wanted to stay alive: “Keep your hands in sight,” “Don’t make sudden moves,” “Don’t cop an attitude,” “Speak in short, clear sentences,” and more. One described how his heart stops every time a cop car rolls past him and how he knows he could be killed and the cop would get away with it, simply because he is Black. Two young men spoke of how this kind of terror and harassment is so constant that they’ve begun to feel numb to it, learning to accept it as “just the way things are.”
These Black men didn’t grow up together. They weren’t from the same neighborhood. They didn’t even all know each other. And yet all of them had been beaten and/or humiliated by police. All of them live with the trauma of knowing they could be killed at any moment and their killers would almost certainly never be brought to justice. All of them live with the threat of ending up in prison like millions of others. And all of their Black mothers had shared the same fear for their lives.
Think of what that means! As Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, has put it, every single Black person in the U.S. lives under an active death sentence. It may or may not be carried out, but it is always there. And, if it is carried out, it will almost always be deemed “justifiable homicide.”
All this was going on before the killing of Trayvon Martin. And for all this time, it has been unacceptable for white people and other non-Blacks to ignore this and remain silent.
Yet, at this moment when thousands upon thousands of Black people are shaking off their numbness, when they are taking to the streets and demanding—through long-suppressed outrage and rivers of bitter tears—that the world take notice and deliver justice for one 17-year-old Black youth who could have been any one of them, it is time for non-Blacks to stand with the just struggle of Black people and join in the protests against the murder of Trayvon Martin.
White people and other non-Blacks, you have been lied to. This has been systematic and it has been going on for decades. You have been taught to fear Black people, to think they “must have done something” when you see Black people pushed up against the wall or hit with a nightstick, and to view the recent outpourings of Black anger and truth-telling as “clinging to past discrimination” or “playing the race-card.”
This must change now. Don’t allow yourself to stand aside from this struggle when it is possible to discern what is right and what is wrong. People of all nationalities must stand up.
It is an act of tremendous courage and large-mindedness that Trayvon's parents have stepped forward to demand justice. It is truly precious that thousands and thousands of Black people have joined them. This is inspiring and must be a call for others of all nationalities to step forward.
Non-Black people have a tremendous responsibility to defy the decades of racist conditioning, segregation, and complicity. By doing so, non-Blacks can break down the sense of isolation that is so profoundly felt among Black people, they can undermine the segregation and fear-mongering this system uses to keep people going along, and they can put out a challenge, and an example, to other non-Blacks that they must do the same.
There is a moment here, where people of all nationalities and of every background need to come together to fight for justice around the murder of Trayvon Martin. Through struggle, people can begin to change the whole climate in this country so that the demonization of Black youth and racist violence no longer goes down unopposed. People who hate what has happened—and how this is only the latest in a whole chain of crimes against Black people—must stand up against this and change themselves through doing so, they must dig deeply into what this outrage reveals about the nature of this system, they must engage with the vision of a revolution that can put an end to all this once and for all, and they must follow through on this fight for justice wherever it leads them.
All this is essential not only in order to win justice for Trayvon, not only to ending the slow-genocide of Black people, but to bringing about a better world for all humanity.
April 10 has been called as a National Day of Outrage against the murder of Trayvon Martin. Wherever you are, make a statement and issue a much-needed challenge to others by wearing a hoodie to work or school that day. Then, bring your body—and others you can mobilize—to be in the streets in protest!
April 19 is a National Day to say NO to mass incarceration: “Silence + Mass Incarceration = Genocide!” This day must be a powerful outpouring that connects up the murder of Trayvon Martin to the criminalization of a whole generation of Black and Latino youth and the massive incarceration of more than 2.4 million people in the U.S. Join in organizing teach-ins and rallies in high schools and colleges and taking to the streets in other ways to say no to mass incarceration and all its killing consequences.
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