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Potential for mass movement grows

Published Mar 28, 2012 10:05 PM

Philadelphia, March 23.
WW photo: Joseph Piette

March 26 — Exactly one month ago on Feb. 26, Trayvon Martin was just another unknown African American whose young life was tragically and brutally cut short. What a difference a month makes. Today Trayvon Martin’s name has become a universal rallying cry for justice in every nook and cranny of the unjust U.S.

His death has come to symbolize every young person of color’s nightmare as they rightfully fear becoming a victim of senseless violence — be it at the hand of a police officer, a prison guard or a racist vigilante — because of how they look and dress. Today millions of people, the vast majority of them Black, but also of every nationality, are participating in a “National Hoodie Day.” That means they are rallying wearing a hoodie as did Martin the day he was murdered.

Martin was stalked by vigilante George Zimmerman as he was returning home from picking up a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles for his younger brother in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., where he was visiting his father. On 911 tapes, Zimmerman said that Martin looked “suspicious” because he was wearing a hoodie. The police dispatcher told Zimmerman not to pursue Martin, but he did so anyway. Zimmerman later revised this to claim that Martin was pursuing him. The armed Zimmerman outweighed the unarmed 17-year-old Martin by 90 pounds.

Martin’s girlfriend said that he told her during a call on his cell phone that he was being followed by someone. On the 911 tapes, Martin can be heard crying for help before he was shot to death in the chest. Two female eyewitnesses have confirmed this.

The Sanford police questioned Zimmerman in a squad car for about an hour and then released him. He has never been arrested or charged with shooting Martin. The Sanford police have a sordid reputation of not arresting anyone accused specifically of assaulting Black men.

Sanford is also the city where racist whites drove the legendary Jackie Robinson out of town with death threats. Robinson was playing minor league baseball there in the 1940s before he integrated baseball’s Major Leagues in 1947.

Zimmerman has publicly stated that he thought the killing would “all blow over.” He has also said that Martin attacked him, attempting to portray himself as the victim. (Los Angeles Times, March 25) Though he apparently hoped these statements would have countered the outrage, they have only added fuel to an incredible brushfire of mass anger from below.

Social media spread national outrage

Although Martin’s shooting initially received considerable coverage in the Florida media, it gained national coverage only in early March when Black radio hosts and blogs started to report the story. Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s parents, consistently kept their son’s story in the media with interviews.

Once the 911 tapes were finally released, the case received broader attention from Twitter and Facebook users. A change.org petition calling for Zimmerman’s arrest appeared online and has gathered close to 2 million signatures so far.

Tweets of the 911 tapes have been retweeted thousands and thousands of times. The anger does not begin and end with Zimmerman killing Martin. Many understand a police cover-up is involved. Also, Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law has attracted attention.

Passed in 2005, this Florida law states that any person who “feels” threatened by another person has the right to use a weapon to defend him- or herself without necessarily facing the prospect of being arrested or prosecuted. Similar laws exist in at least 20 other states. Zimmerman has used this law as an excuse for shooting Martin. The police supported his claim of self-defense based on this law, which was rubber-stamped by the National Rifle Association and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The Sanford police chief has temporarily stepped down due to criticism. State Attorney for Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit Court Angela B. Corey has been assigned to investigate the case that will be presented to the grand jury on April 10.

The national outcry for justice for Trayvon Martin, spearheaded in the grassroots led by the African-American community, continues to resonate throughout every sector of U.S. society. Several Miami-based high schools staged walkouts last week. Trayvon Martin lived in Miami.

Even President Barack Obama was forced to make a public statement on the case, saying that if he had a son, he would look like Martin. This personal statement prompted attacks by racist right-wingers like Newt Gingrich and Glenn Beck, who accused the president of reverse racism.

The U.S. Justice Department was pressured to announce plans to carry out an investigation regarding Zimmerman’s violation of Martin’s civil rights.

Well-known celebrities such as Spike Lee, Mia Farrow, Jamie Foxx, Sinead O’Connor, Ricky Martin and Clay Aiken have added their voices to the demand that Zimmerman be arrested. The entire Miami Heat basketball team, Martin’s favorite, led by Dwayne Wade and Lebron James, posed in hoodies with their heads bowed in honor of Martin. They have also worn the words “We want justice” on their sneakers during games.

Amar’e Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks have worn hoodies during pregame warmups. The National Basketball Players Association issued a statement demanding an arrest and accusing the Sanford Police Department of “racial bias.”

The entire cast of Broadway musical “Porgy and Bess” took a group picture in their hoodies before a March 25 performance. ESPN, the world’s largest sports network, reversed its original policy of not allowing employees to wear hoodies in their online avatars on Twitter.

The great singer, Chaka Khan, initiated a song and video featuring other R&B singers like Kelly Price and Luke James honoring the memory of Trayvon Martin. The video shows actors Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine wearing hoodies.

Parallels with the Emmett Till lynching

The Trayvon Martin case has rightfully been compared to the lynching of 14-year-old African-American Emmett Till, a native Chicagoan. In August 1955, while visiting relatives in Money, Miss., Till was kidnapped by three Ku Klux Klan members, who tortured and then fatally shot Till before tossing his body in the Mississippi River. His so-called crime was allegedly whistling at a white woman. The KKK members were arrested and then acquitted by an all-white jury. These same men bragged about committing the murder in a Life magazine article.

Till’s funeral in Chicago attracted at least 50,000 people from around the country. His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, purposely allowed his casket to be opened to allow the world to see his horribly battered and disfigured face. This spontaneous anger transformed itself three months later into the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott.

The one-year-long boycott successfully struck down a racist city law that relegated Black people to the back of the bus. This boycott eventually ignited the historic Civil Rights movement in the South that brought about federal laws desegregating public places and legalizing the basic, democratic right of Black people to vote.

Many compare the initial response to Martin’s lynching to what happened after Till’s. The important question that begs an answer is this: Will Martin’s murder also help spark an ongoing, organized, massive movement against racial injustice?

This is a legitimate question since Martin’s lynching is a painful and constant reminder that a racist war exists in the U.S. against people of color, specifically young Black men. Many of the protests around the country have linked Martin’s murder to the killings of other young Black men in local areas by either the police or vigilantes like Zimmerman.

Martin’s parents initiated a town hall meeting today in Eatonville, Fla., calling for a national movement to evolve so that what happened to their son will not happen to others. While the hall only held 500 people, tens of thousands of people stood for hours outside observing the proceedings on jumbotrons.

Every minute of every day, police stop and frisk thousands for no other reason than walking or driving while Black and Latino/a. The vast majority of millions imprisoned or caught in the vicious web of the U.S. criminal justice system are poor, young people of color. The global capitalist economic crisis, which has displaced millions of skilled and semi-skilled workers, has totally pushed aside young workers of color in disproportionate numbers. This marginalization has shut the doors to public education and job training for youth.

The corporate media are now making contemptible attempts to justify Zimmerman’s actions and dilute the mass anger by reporting that Martin was suspended from school for 10 days for possessing marijuana. This kind of demonization of one’s character is nothing new when it comes to youth of color. The big-business media do it to divert attention from the real issues: racist vigilantism and police brutality.

At a March 26 press conference, Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, stated, “They have killed by son and now they are trying to kill his reputation.” (CNN) Attempts are now being made by the media to raise doubts in the minds of the public that Zimmerman, as heard on the 911 tapes, called Martin a racial slur before shooting him and that the screams for help did not come from Martin but from Zimmerman.

All these obvious diversions serve to raise consciousness that capitalism as a racist, divide-and-conquer system offers no bright future for young people, especially for those like Trayvon Martin whose killer is still free to walk the streets. The fact that the vast majority of youth expressing their solidarity with Trayvon Martin are other young Black men who face demonization on a daily basis shows that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain in openly expressing their solidarity with their fallen brother.

Many whites have visibly expressed their anti-racist solidarity in the many protests around the country. A 68-year-old white man, John Carnduff Stewart, was arrested for sending “death threats” to the Sanford police chief due to his outrage at the Martin shooting. Stewart reportedly described the entire police department as being “bigoted” and “unprofessional.” (Orlando Sentinel, March 23)

Justice for Trayvon Martin goes beyond Zimmerman’s arrest, though that is an important first step. The call for justice must also include a united movement’s demand for the right to good paying jobs, education, health care, housing and all human needs that capitalism denies to much of humanity. An International Day of Solidarity with Trayvon Martin has been called for April 10, the first day of the grand jury proceedings.

People in Scotland, Japan, Sweden, Australia and other countries have reportedly already donned hoodies in solidarity with Trayvon Martin. n