On Trayvon Martin

The Million Hoodie March in protest of the death of Trayvon Martin was today, so it’s a good opportunity to reflect on the injustice of his death.

The details of Trayvon’s death are simple: Trayvon Martin, carrying Skittles and an ice tea for his little brother, walked to his father’s house in a suburban Florida neighborhood. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, thought he was suspicious and called 911; the dispatcher told him that police were coming and not to pursue. Martin was found, unresponsive and unarmed. Zimmerman, claiming that he was defending himself against an unarmed teenager with his semiautomatic handgun, has not been charged with a crime.


Picture from the Million Hoodie March: a young black boy with a sign that says “Am I Next?”

This is the sort of world we live in. The kind of world in which a kid, a seventeen-year-old kid, a good student, someone who is planning on going to college and becoming an aviation mechanic, can be shot and killed for going to buy candy at a 7-11.

Why?

Because he’s black. Because a black boy walking alone isn’t just a kid out to get candy. He’s “suspicious.” He’s “up to no good.” He’s “on drugs.” He’s a “young black man who appears to be an outsider,” whom are definitely the sort of people we have to be on the lookout for, because we know that all black men are criminals. Clearly.

I grew up in Florida too; I know people who went to Trayvon’s high school. But I can go buy candy without fearing for my life, simply because of the color of my skin. You want privilege? That’s privilege. The sure knowledge that I’m not taking my life into my hands by walking outside. That should not be something that I should feel lucky for. That should not be fucking special.

Sean Hannity wants to know if the Trayvon Martin killing was just a “horrible accident.” NO. Trayvon was not asking to be murdered by his refusal to cooperate; even if Zimmerman were a police officer, he shouldn’t have killed Trayvon for simple refusal to cooperate, but he wasn’t a fucking police officer. If you see a strange person following you, and it turns out he has a gun, guess what? You’re going to not answer their questions, and you’re going to run the fuck away. That is normal human person behavior. That is not a fucking death-penalty offense.

The death of Trayvon Martin is only the most extreme example of the endless oppression of black men within the American criminal justice system. From stop and frisk to driving while black, from mall security guards that assume that black boys are thieves to the prison-industrial complex, black men are endlessly assumed to be criminals, to be drug addicts, to be violent, simply because of their skin color.

And when racism comes to its natural conclusion and ends in the death of an innocent black boy… well. The police are automatically biased in favor of the non-black shooter instead of the black corpse. Witnesses reported that the police were biased in favor of Zimmerman; the police assume that it was self-defense. Dude, in America we have these things called “trials.” If it were truly self-defense, then Zimmerman can present the evidence about such in his trial. Since there are tons of questions about whether “a high school student with no criminal record decides to attack a dude for no reason” is more plausible than “a racist fuckhead assumes a black boy is criminal,” you can let the jury decide. That is what they are for.

But, man, it’s just a black kid. Who cares when a black boy dies?

Not racist America. Black men are ultimately disposable. Black men don’t deserve safety, or security, or justice. As a culture, we don’t care about black men. But, as radical as it may seem to racist fuckheads like Zimmerman and his defenders, black men are human beings. The security of white people from the imaginary threat of young black men who are outsiders is trumped by the security of black people from actual people with actual guns actually attempting to murder them.

That phrase “young black men who are outsiders,” which Zimmerman apparently used as a Neighborhood Watch leader to describe the sort of people good (read: white) people ought to watch out for, is striking to me. Because in our society black men are, all too often, outsiders. They are the racialized Other. They don’t have the same basic human rights– to, for instance, not be murdered. Forever a threat, forever suspicious, forever a suspect, continually having to prove that they are not criminals just because of their melanin content.

Right now, across the country, millions of black parents are tucking their sons in and wondering if their child is next. Right now, black parents are sitting their sons down to tell them how to interact with police and with men with guns, and that if they do anything that even begins to look like they might attack they risk finding themselves dead.

Fuck. That. Shit.

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Comments

  1. Hey, synchronicity.. just posted this, about our local rally:
    http://daisysdeadair.blogspot.com/2012/03/rally-for-trayvon-martin.html

    South Carolina also has a “stand your ground” law… are you surprised? :(

  2. @daelyte, I’m not sure you’ve understood me. I was making the point that stand your ground did not apply to Zimmerman as a defence, whether or not Trayvon assulted Zimmerman, not that Trayvon should be considered (or not considered) to have been acting in self defence.

    As you said “It says: “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked…”
    If chasing Trayvon is treated as an assult, then Zimmerman is engaging in unlawful activity, and duty to retreat applies.

  3. I just put this up at Ethecofem:
    http://www.ethecofem.com/trayvon-martin-and-why-black-males-distrust-cops/

    I also submitted a modified version at Good Men Project.

  4. I’m also incredibly depressed by the extent of the racist comments about George Zimmerman, the worst being (and I’m not going to use their language) “let the blacks and the Latinos kill each other).”

  5. @f: We really need a lawyer to interpret laws to know what they mean. Sometime things like “deprive of the right of honest services” means “take a bribe”. Now just from standard English, we can look at this as “A if B”. A only applies if B is true. B is “he or she reasonably believes [lethal force] is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” So if they are using normal English and not legalese, then you can only use lethal force when necessary to save your life, and furthermore if you can safely escape lethal force isn’t necessary.
    Now, yes still might be legalese and not English, however the link you posted doesn’t seem to be a lawyer and doesn’t seem to have talked to one. So I’m going to go with the English interpretation. Also his other complaints about “forcible felony” being too broad? Okay, kidnapping? Have fun getting that qualified as serious bodily harm. Rape? You might actually be able to get that to count but it won’t be easy. And his complaint that you don’t need objective danger doesn’t make sense. The last thing we want is someone to wave around an empty gun, get killed by someone who thinks the gunman has a loaded gun, and then send that person to jail.

    Of course, I seriously doubt it was necessary. Oh and any legalese interpretation that allows for lethal force when you can safely retreat is a terrible law.

  6. Skull Bearer says:

    One thing I’ve been hearing a lot about has been the ‘stand your ground’ laws that would potentially make Martin’s murder legal. I wonder how it would go down if a black person tried to claim self-defence under these laws if they killed a white person?

  7. All Contraire says:

    Culled from a series of ongoing articles in the ‘Tampa Bay Times’ and other sources, the following is a similar tragic story, which reads as a mirror image of the Trayvon Martin shooting, except there is detailed testimony from eye-witnesses. Make of it what you will.

    http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/aftermath-of-deadly-shooting-in-valrico-leaves-community-bewildered/1124429

    Valrico is described as an unincorporated census-designated place in rural Hillsborough County, Florida, with a population of 6582 at the 2000 census; a median income of $53, 314 and median house/condo price of $170,109 in 2009. Racial/ethnic makeup: 59.3% White; 20.5% Hispanic; 10.5% Asian; 7.4% Black; and 2.3% Other.

    Valrico, Sept. 26, 2010. David James, 41, a White male who had served 20 years in the Air Force was shot to death by a local school bus driver, Trevor Dooley, a 69-year-old Black man originally from New York where he had been a delivery driver in the Bronx.

    Summarized from articles and quoted from court testimony as related in the ‘Tampa Bay Times’. Unfortunately the paper’s dates are not clear, especially in the lengthy ongoing trial. As far as I can tell, the First Degree Manslaughter trial began in December last year, over a year after the incident, and has been bogged down ever since over the ‘Stand Your Ground’ mess.

    http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/criminal/witnesses-dispute-trevor-dooleys-stand-your-ground-claim-in-valrico/1206308

    Valrico, Florida, Sunday afternoon, Sept, 26, 2010. As he often did, 41-year-old David James, a 20-year Air Force veteran, was enjoying playing basketball with his 8-year-old daughter at the local park, which is owned by the Twin Lakes Neighborhood Association.

    The court testimony picks up here: 14-year-old Spencer Arthur was “visiting friends in…Twin Lakes…He took his skateboard to the park and asked permission to practice trick moves from James, who was shooting hoops with his daughter. The only others in the park were a couple playing tennis.

    But the boy then heard a voice from across the street. It was Dooley, outside his garage, shouting that he should get off the court, that there was a no-skateboarding sign. The boy stopped. He heard James call out to Dooley, “Show me the sign.” Michael Scott Whitt, practicing tennis serves nearby with his wife, Michelle, stopped to watch. They testified that Dooley briefly went into his garage, then started across the street with a dark object sticking out of his waistband. They said James threw his hands up and said, “Oh, come on.”

    Dooley and James argued over letting the boy skate until Dooley lifted his shirt and said, “F— you,” the Whitts testified. They said Dooley turned and started home, but James caught up with him. “Mr. James said, ‘Don’t flash a weapon,’ something like that,” Michelle Whitt testified. Then, she said, Dooley pulled out the gun and James grabbed his hand. The men struggled, they fell to the ground, and James ended up on his knees as Dooley lay on his side. They still wrestled for the gun. The gun fired.

    “Mr. James looked up at us,” Michelle Whitt testified. “He said, ‘Call 911. I’ve been shot.’ Then he fell over.” He was shot through the heart. A medical examiner said he probably died within seconds. Michael Whitt called 911 at the same time the boy did. On his call, Whitt cried out, “Oh my God. All this over a skateboard.”

    Dooley waited by the body for paramedics and police. After questioning by officers he was not charged and let go. He returned to work Monday driving a school bus for middle and high school students and said nothing to school officials about the shooting. It’s not clear to me from any of the articles when Mr. Dooley was arrested and charged with ‘First Degree Manslaughter'; but he was out on bail pending his trial which began over a year later in December 2011 and is still on-going. Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground Law’ is at the heart of his defense.

    In a day of anguished [pre-trial motion to dismiss?] testimony, eyewitnesses who included the [now 15-year-old] skateboarder consistently described Dooley as the aggressor who cursed his neighbor and flashed a pistol before a fatal struggle for the gun.

    The testimony offered a preview of Dooley’s trial on a first-degree manslaughter charge scheduled for January if a judge doesn’t dismiss the case based on his ‘Stand Your Ground’ defense.

    Dooley’s attorney, Ronald Tulin, repeatedly got the Whitts to describe the difference in size and age between the men [James was bigger and 28 years younger]. He had them restate their testimony that Dooley was headed back to his house before the fight. But when questioned by prosecutor Stephen Udagawa, the witnesses persisted in labeling Dooley the aggressor. They said James never tried to punch or choke Dooley. They said he only went for the gun. “There were no threats, no fists,” Michelle Whitt said. She stopped looking after the shot. All she could think to do, she said, was run to James’ little girl, standing nearby.”

    The following are some quotes from various articles in the ‘Tampa Bay Times’, which seem more balanced and subdued, sad really, compared with the media hysteria now being whipped up in countless national, state and local cable and online news reports, papers, blogs, etc., over the Martin shooting…

    In a 911 call played Wednesday for Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, the [then 14-year-old] skateboarder blamed himself. “It was my fault,” Spencer Arthur cried to a dispatcher. “He (Dooley) got mad at me because I was skateboarding. I didn’t know what the rules are. I don’t live there.”

    “Neighbors said Dooley is a fine man with good intentions. They couldn’t understand how a man wound up dead.”

    “It’s just really sad and it’s stupid,” said Sam Romano, 50, a neighbor. “None of it made any sense to any of us.”

    Mark Cox, a State Attorney’s Office spokesman, said he couldn’t yet explain why no charges have been filed. “It’s still very much a pending investigation,” he said. “We’re working on it diligently.”

    Neighbors said James was defending skateboarders, who they said have had multiple run-ins with Dooley. “We’ve gone off on each other before,” said James’ stepson, 17-year-old Garrett James.

    James’ wife, Kanina James, can’t understand why Dooley is free. “It’s over and it’s done and it can’t be undone,” she said on the phone to a friend Monday morning. “Yeah, they caught him and they let him go. I don’t know why.”

    http://www.wtsp.com/news/local/article/246549/8/Widow-wants-Stand-Your-Ground-law-changed

    March 22, 2012

    Valrico, Florida — A Bay area woman believes Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law needs to be changed. Kanina James’ husband, David, was shot and killed in September 2010 in his Twin Lakes neighborhood during an argument about skateboarders.

    Trevor Dooley, the accused shooter, has claimed self-defense and is using Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Right now, arguments are being filed on a motion to dismiss the charges, including manslaughter, against Dooley.

    James calls it a slap in the face and is against the “Stand Your Ground” law. She feels it’s not being used correctly and is creating horrible injustices, such as the Trayvon Martin case happening in Sanford right now.

    “It’s wrong. It’s being overused for the wrong reasons. It’s not right,” says James…..

    This tragedy remained a purely local story. No day-after-day national and international media sensation. No angry protest marches. No Presidential empathy. No Al Sharpton. Still, one wonders if the outcry and pressure to arrest, prosecute, and convict in the Trayvon Martin shooting might not, perversely, have a negative impact on Mr. Dooley’s defense, causing the court to deny his motion to dismiss and influencing jurors toward a conviction, albeit for manslaughter not murder. What is clear is that the “Stand Your Ground Law” is a legal mess.

  8. What is clear is that the “Stand Your Ground Law” is a legal mess.

    Yeah… my link, above, offers the case of a South Carolina squatter shot under the SYG law.

    He didn’t die, so you didn’t hear about it.

    >:(

  9. One more thing about the Martin case being a perfect storm for getting public attention– Zimmerman wasn’t a policeman.

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