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Stop the war on African-American youth!

Published Mar 20, 2012 10:49 PM

Trayvon Martin holding infant.

Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American youth, was shot in the chest and killed at point-blank range by a vigilante on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. Martin was unarmed as he was returning from a store when his young life was tragically cut short. The man who shot him, George Zimmerman — who lived in a gated community — has not been arrested as of this writing.

The 911 tapes of the exchange between the two, including the shot that killed Martin, have been released to the public. On these tapes, Martin can be heard pleading for his life before Zimmerman pulls the trigger.

In 2005, Florida passed the “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows citizens to use deadly force if they “feel” threatened with injury or death, which Zimmerman has used to claim “self-defense.” But other evidence has come forth disproving Zimmerman’s claim that he shot Martin in self-defense, along with the fact that on the 911 call, he was asked not to pursue the teenager.

The fact that the Sanford Police Department has not arrested Zimmerman, almost a month after the shooting, has outraged millions of people around the U.S. and the world. If Martin had been the shooter, the odds of him being arrested immediately would have been overwhelming. The Sanford police have already been cited for not arresting anyone who assaults Black people. It is this known history, along with the “Stand Your Ground” law, that gave Zimmerman the green light to kill Martin. ABC News reported that Martin was subjected to a racial slur by Zimmerman before he was killed.

A petition demanding Zimmerman’s arrest has garnered 600,000 signatures, as more continue to sign it. Thousands of tweets from the U.S. and worldwide are pouring in demanding justice for Trayvon Martin. These tweets include famous celebrities such as Don Cheadle, Rosanne Barr, Taraji P. Henson, John Legend, Immortal Technique, Russell Simmons and more. This social media phenomenon forced the U.S. Justice Department to announce on March 19 that it would open an “investigation” into the shooting. And a grand jury in Florida will supposedly make a ruling next month on this case.

Impunity for repression

Trayvon Martin joins the already countless list of young African-American men who have lost their lives for no other reasons than being young, male and a person of color. And in Martin’s particular case, he had his life stolen from him walking while Black, wearing a hoodie and carrying a bag of Skittles, as many tweets indicate.

Whether it’s murder by a police officer or a vigilante’s bullet, a bloody war on African-American youth is deepening by leaps and bounds as the capitalist economic crisis becomes more permanent and insoluble. This war is rooted within a brutal U.S. capitalist system built on the foundation of slavery and all forms of racist Jim Crow. This is a system that in general gives a blank check to its repressive apparatus — the police — to racially profile Black, Latino/a and Native youth in disproportionate numbers without impunity.

This is a system that has systematically disenfranchised millions of young Black men from getting decent-paying jobs, education and health care if they suffer from drug addiction; as a consequence, their numbers are swelling the prisons. The only work they do find is in prison, where they are forced to work for slave wages averaging a dollar or less an hour.

And if they are released from prison, they are demonized, denied access to jobs and stigmatized for life for being a “former felon.” They are also denied the right to political representation. For instance, more than 1.4 million African-American men will be denied the right to vote in the 2012 presidential election due to past felony convictions. Florida is home to many of these former felons, relegating it to a modern-day plantation.

Since 2008 and the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president, the big business pundits have described the U.S. as a “post-racial” society. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, there is even more racism today as many of the progressive gains won by mass struggles, starting in the 1930s with the building of unions through the 1960s with the upsurge of the Black Liberation movement, have been decimated.

Protests calling for justice for Trayvon Martin are being called around the country, including a “A Million Hoodies March for Trayvon Martin” in New York on March 21 in Union Square, where Occupy Wall Street activists have set up tents.

This latest atrocity in Florida offers an important reminder: Youth in the Black, Latino/a and other oppressed communities have an objective, common interest with many white youth involved in the OWS movement. Capitalism does not offer them any hope for a bright, productive future. OWS’s solidarity with youth of color who are daily under the gun is crucial in forging class unity against all of capitalism’s evils, especially racism.