The bitter anger that greeted the not-guilty verdict for Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, continued into a second week with vigils outside federal buildings in more than 100 cities on Saturday, July 20. The call for demonstrations by Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and other liberal organizations—and even a rare acknowledgment of the issue of racism by President Barack Obama—showed the wide scope of discontent about the injustice in Sanford, Fla. At the protests, Sharpton and other speakers focused on the upcoming rally in Washington, D.C., to mark the 50th anniversary of a high point of the civil rights movement: the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
With the latest protests, activists are asking whether this marks a new movement against racism. At a forum on July 17, Rats, Riots and Revolution: Black Housing in the 1960s, discussed what the Zimmerman verdict tells us about racism in America today—and what the struggle against bigotry and discrimination needs to take up., a Chicago activist and author of the forthcoming
… Though it was supposed to be a trial to determine the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman, it quickly turned into a trial of Trayvon Martin, his family and his friends. The way they were put on trial exposed the racism of George Zimmerman and his lawyers, of course, but also the racism of the system itself.
On one of the last days of the trial, some woman testified who had two Black youngsters break into her house—as if that somehow had anything to do with what happened to Trayvon Martin the night he was murdered. But this was allowed. So was the defense lawyers holding up a picture of Trayvon Martin with no shirt on—to say that this was the beast that confronted George Zimmerman.
There was clearly an attempt by the defense to appeal to the racism of the jury and invoke every racial stereotype in the book to try to legitimize George Zimmerman’s claims that he found Trayvon Martin suspicious, and had to follow him, and ultimately kill him.
But at the same time, the judge ruled that the issue of race couldn’t be discussed—because, he said, there was no evidence that George Zimmerman had ever made a racial insult or ever mentioned race. And therefore, if race isn’t mentioned, that means that racism isn’t a factor in the situation.
But for most of us, we know that whether it’s mentioned or not, racism is always involved in the criminal justice system, as it most certainly was in this case.
It’s why Martin was considered suspicious in the first place—because he was Black. It’s why the police believed Zimmerman, even though he was standing over the dead body of a 17-year-old boy—it was because Martin was Black. It’s why the police didn’t bother to find out if a teenager was missing from the nearby apartment complex where Martin was staying, and instead took his body and marked it as a John Doe—because he was Black. And it’s why it took it took 44 days for Zimmerman to be arrested in the first place.
All of these things happened because Trayvon Martin was Black.