A Cold-Blooded Murder
“Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.” — Ella Baker, 1964
When Trayvon Martin left his home on February 26 to buy candy at a neighborhood store in Sanford, Florida, it seemed to be a day like any other. But because Trayvon was born Black in a racist society, even that simple errand carried a fatal risk. As he walked home, 17-year-old Trayvon was followed by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who constantly followed and harassed Black people he thought were “suspicious.” Zimmerman — several inches taller and a hundred pounds heavier than Trayvon — began to chase him and eventually cornered him. A fight broke out and while Trayvon called out for help, Zimmerman drew his handgun and shot Trayvon dead.
Marchers at NYC’s Million Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin. Photo by David Shankbone. George Zimmerman may have had good reason to think that he could get away with this cold-blooded murder. Local police did everything they could to help Zimmerman and to damage any investigation into his actions. They accepted Zimmerman’s story that he acted in self-defense and did not test him for drugs or alcohol as was normal procedure in a murder investigation. They coached witnesses to agree with Zimmerman’s story and gave statements to the press defending Zimmerman. All of this is consistent with the police department’s documented and systematic hostility to the local Black community. Zimmerman is also likely to be protected by the “stand your ground” law in Florida, which was drafted by right-wing national think tank ALEC and signed into law by then-governor Jeb Bush.
More fundamentally, Zimmerman is protected by the deep-seated traditions of white supremacy in this country. The lives of Black people and other oppressed nationalities have always been considered more or less expendable in this country. More than any state law or racist culture in a local police department, it is the saturation of white supremacy through the fabric of the United States which protects George Zimmerman. This is the thread that connects Trayvon Martin’s murder with the police murders of Ramarley Graham, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Rubén Salazar, and many others; and with murders like those of Emmett Till, James Byrd, Vincent Chin, Brisenia Flores and many more.
Justice For Trayvon Martin
More than a million people have signed a petition calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman. Zimmerman is clearly an imminent danger and his arrest and trial might bring at least a small measure of relief to Trayvon’s family. Mass pressure expressed through this petition and other online and offline means has caused the federal Department of Justice to consider a prosecution of Zimmerman, which may be the only way to bring about his arrest given the apparent unwillingness of local police and prosecutors to act. A “Million Hoodie March” on Wednesday and other rallies and actions are also helping to bring more attention to this story.
Events like this can also help build the movement we need to ensure that there will be no more murders like this one. Real justice for Trayvon requires more than the arrest of one man. It is the institution of white supremacy which creates racist murderers, police departments, and state and national laws; that is what devalues and threatens the lives and well-being of all Black men and women — and people of other oppressed nationalities — who live every day on a suspended sentence in racist America. And so our task must be to build a revolutionary movement and political organization explicitly aimed against white supremacy. We must see murderers and their enablers be punished, yes. But we cannot rest until we live in a society where violence like this becomes as unthinkable as it is inevitable today.
At a rally for Trayvon Martin in San Francisco, marchers listen to the mother of James Rivera. He was murdered by Stockton police on the day before his 17th birthday.