How many people will we be: I am Amadou Diallo! I am Oscar Grant! I am Troy Davis! I am Trayvon Martin! I am fill-in-the-blank! By now, our communities should be crystal clear on the historic and lethal patterns of racial profiling and violence by the criminal justice system. We seem to be less clear that it will take unwavering commitment and a strategic resolution to this systemic problem.
The Trayvon Martin case galvanized the righteous indignation of millions across this nation. I marveled at the creativity and ingenuity of slogans, posters and tactics. Some have been inspired to write poems and songs. One article I read even suggested we start naming schools, parks and other public places after the child. But unless we make some strategic moves, we can chalk up all that’s been done by us as a stimulus package for the country’s economy (sales of hoodies, Skittles, tea, etc) and a mere media opportunity for the ever-ready political hustlers. We must start connecting the dots if we are to make any meaningful changes in this reality. Otherwise, as the old saying goes “if you keep doing whatcha’ doing, you’ll keep gettin’ what you gettin’.”
After all, do we know what the status is today of the Jena 6 or what the racial climate is in the school and town? Did we unleash our unified power to change the policy of deadly force by transit cops so that there are no more Oscar Grants? Did we swell the ranks of the movement to end the barbaric practice of the death penalty after we collectively declared “I am Troy Davis?” Mobilizing millions around the latest injustice, without a battle plan for real justice, can have a demoralizing effect on those coming to the forefront to be change agents. To add to the incendiary situation in Sanford, FL, the New Black Panther Party has offered a $10k bounty for the capture of Zimmerman (and then what?). Fully armed Neo-nazis are on the scene to protect the white community in the event that something jumps off. I don’t think either of these tactics moves us towards a place for seeking justice and healing. The current momentum must go beyond the symbolism and anger. Justice is the destination; outrage is the fuel to get us there. We must get justice for the Martin family and some key reforms if we intend to slow down the cycle of black victimization. Here are my humble suggestions:
Zimmerman remains free and uncharged; this must change. Since the February 26 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon by block watcher turned vigilante George Zimmerman, the case has been tried in the media replete with “witnesses”, video and audio tapes and even voice analysis of the screams made during the scuffle between Martin and Zimmerman. Although the public is hungry for details, this is the stuff that brings legal obstacles to the case, i.e. inadmissible statements, vanishing witnesses, change of venue, etc. Pressure must be put on the Sanford prosecutor to charge Zimmerman. We must also put heat on the Justice Department for a full and thorough investigation.
Next are the more long term goals of bringing down the Stand your Ground (SYG) laws, teaching black boys how to survive America’s racism and strengthening the social justice movement.
There are SYG and other similar laws on the books in about half the states which means this law is probably in your home state. These laws, along with the death penalty, are vestiges of legalized lynching from a by-gone era. These laws must go and be exposed as another tool for white men who feel threatened by black or brown males. The legal interpretation of SYG is so broad that citizens have used the law to kill people at the mall or suspects breaking into a neighbor’s home. Crime stats reveal a significant spike in “justifiable” homicides wherever these laws exist.
We can’t go into this legislative fight half-assed or short-winded. The National Rifle Association is the primary initiator of these laws and they are highly organized and resource-rich. They will obliterate any offensive that is poorly organized and unserious. The African American village has done a negligible job in preparing our children for life in America, especially our males. The village isn’t teaching them that their skin color alone has consequences. This lack of understanding puts them at risk in a number of ways. Toure said it best in his article titled, “How to Talk to Young Black Boys about Trayvon Martin.” Toure’s piece has value beyond the Martin tragedy. The analytical conversations in cyberspace must be brought to the streets and homes of those families and communities most affected by poverty, marginalization and violence. Many of the people drawn into these spontaneous upsurges are rookies and want political guidance. The progressive organizers and radical thinkers must get into leadership positions. This movement-building opening allows us to talk about white supremacy, privilege and the U.S. criminal justice system, to talk about the role of media and public education in the criminalization of black males.
Our job as movement-builders is to win over those who are outraged in the moment to join a protracted struggle that transforms our society. In a fast-paced media market, issues face a sudden death once the cameras stop rolling. Our organizing must not be dictated by the media’s frenzy for the next issue de jour. Let’s call a time-out for philosophizing and profiteering off injustice. It’s time to get the hoodie movement engaged in what Angela Davis calls the new abolitionist movement – ending mass incarceration, racial profiling, prison-slave labor and the death penalty. This would truly be a strategic shift that permanently connects to a broader vision of black liberation and human rights. Only then can we confidently roar “No more Trayvon Martins!”.
Jamala Rogers is the leader of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis and the Black Radical Congress National Organizer. Additionally, she is an Alston-Bannerman Fellow. She is the author of The Best of the Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle.
This piece was reprinted with permission from The Black Commentator.