I Am Trayvon

(Con­tri­bu­tion by Slik Magazine / Steph­en Lawrence Found­a­tion)

Mil­lions world­wide have signed the peti­tion to seek justice for the killing of  17 year old Trayvon Mar­tin. He was killed in San­ford, Flor­ida by George Zim­mer­man, a 28 year-old self  appoin­ted neigh­bour­hood watch­man who decided that he should play judge, jury and exe­cu­tion­er of  an unarmed teen because he thought Trayvon looked “sus­pi­cious”.

Trayvon armed with “Skittles and Iced Tea” was walk­ing through the gated com­munity on his way home when he was shot and killed by Zim­mer­man, who ini­tially walked free under the Authority’s inter­pret­a­tion of  Florida’s self  defence laws. The news of  his death, and how Zim­mer­man had not been arres­ted, sent shock­waves through­out Amer­ica and beyond.“I am Trayvon” has become the ral­ly­ing cry at protests and vari­ous con­gress­men and celebrit­ies have donned “hood­ies” in solid­ar­ity.

Fol­low­ing the glob­al out­rage and weeks impas­sioned cam­paign­ing, Zim­mer­man was arres­ted and charged with second degree murder. How­ever, Civil Rights vet­er­an Rev Al Sharpton said: “Without the pres­sure there would not have been a second look [at the case]. This is a not a night for cel­eb­rat­ing, this night should not have happened in the first place.”At a time like this, it is vital to con­sider what can be learned from such tra­gic cir­cum­stances. What we learn from this, and the way we com­bat the racist dis­course we have been assaul­ted with from the media, is cru­cial, so that we can work towards change, as we step out from under this can­opy of  injustice into bright­er and more hope­ful days.

A rather myop­ic ana­lys­is of  events is that Zim­mer­man was merely an overzeal­ous indi­vidu­al whose ill thought out actions res­ul­ted in the death of  a minor. Ulti­mately Zim­mer­man is respons­ible for his actions which were con­trary to the instruc­tions giv­en by the Police Dis­patch­er he called whilst fol-low­ing Trayvon. How­ever, as uncom­fort­able as it is for many, it is import­ant to throw the net of  culp­ab­il­ity wider and view this tragedy against a back­drop of  wider soci­et­al and deep rooted injustice.

Some have tried to cre­ate an arti­fi­cial divi­sion between his actions and the thought pro­cess lead­ing up to this, con­demning the vigil­ante act of  shoot­ing, yet legit­im­iz­ing the fear and sus­pi­cion upon which he acted. This was best illus­trated by Fox News com­ment­at­or Ger­aldo Rivera, who urged young blacks and Lati­nos to stop wear­ing hood­ies in order to avoid Trayvon’s fate. Impli­cit in this paradigm is an uncrit­ic­al accept­ance of  pro­fil­ing and neg­at­ive ste­reo­typ­ing. This case goes way bey­ond gun con­trol laws and Florida’s inter­pret­a­tion of  self  defense laws although these were tools used to facil­it­ate this injustice.

As Bri­tain gets ready to point a smug fin­ger of  accus­a­tion across the Atlantic, it would be sali­ent to high­light how US events are mirrored here in the UK. We are facing a huge prob­lem with stop and search. Accord­ing to the Lon­don School of  Eco­nom­ics and Open Soci­ety Justice Ini­ti­at­ive, black people are 30 times more likely to be stopped and searched under Sec­tion 60 powers. This is linked to racial pro­fil­ing – the same prof ling which would have ulti­mately led Zim­mer­man to kill Trayvon.

While there was under­stand­able delight at the con­vic­tions for the killers of  Steph­en Lawrence, it took 17 years to achieve any sort of  justice for the Lawrence fam­ily. More per­tin­ently, it would not have happened without the per­sist­ence and unrivaled determ­in­a­tion of  Doreen and Neville Lawrence who fought, and still are fight­ing, for justice. The fact that three of  the five killers are still walk­ing free is a blight upon the Justice Sys­tem. The num­bers of  deaths in cus­tody remain at an unac­cept­ably high level and we have wit­nessed, in par­tic­u­lar, a sharp rise in the num­bers of  black deaths in police cus­tody in recent years. The cir­cum­stances which these men have died in are sus­pi­cious, and the reas­ons for death put for­ward by police lack cred­ib­il­ity in the eyes of  many. The United Friends and Fam­il­ies Cam­paign has been formed in response to this.

These acts of  aggres­sion are all on a con­tinuüm; from the police­man who stops and searches, to the one who kills the unarmed black male because he decides he is a threat, to the sys­tem that is slow and unwill­ing to bring justice. Each meth­od of  con­trol, humi­li­ation, and sub­jug­a­tion is held up by the oth­er, inex­tric­ably joined togeth­er in an ugly coali­tion of  pre­ju­dice and fear.

The eyes of  Amer­ica, and indeed the world, are closely fol­low­ing the devel­op­ments in the Trayvon case. While Trayvon’s death has received the media cov­er­age that it deserved, oth­ers in Amer­ica have not. Ramar­ley Gra­ham, a drug sus­pect shot dead in his mother’s apart­ment, and Rekia Boyd, shot dead by an o  duty police officer, were both young, unarmed and black. 15 year old Asperger’s sufferer Stephon Watts was regarded as such a threat when he approached officers with a but­ter knife that they shot him dead in his par­ents’ house.

If  this case teaches us any­thing, it is that a guilty until proven inno­cent approach is unten­able. If  someone is engaged in crim­in­al activ­ity, real or ima­gined, due pro­cess must be fol­lowed. Pres­id­ent Obama has urged that Amer­ica does some ‘soul search­ing’ fol­low­ing this incid­ent. As MLK Jr said “Every step towards the goal of  justice requires…the tire­less exer­tions and pas­sion­ate con­cern of  ded­ic­ated indi­vidu­als.” As a rain­bow coali­tion of  people from all walks of  soci­ety, stand togeth­er in tak­ing action against this a ront to justice and human­ity, we have seen pro­gress made in a short time. The jour­ney has opened with dia­logue, how­ever Trayvon’s leg­acy will be more than words alone..

By Amma Priscilla Mante

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