The picture above shows Times Square on Sunday night, during the protest for Trayvon Martin. As I took this photo the woman with the loudspeaker was yelling out “We are here to say that black lives have value.”
That is what the demonstrations boil down to. When the Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman, something snapped within many people and there was a need to go out onto the streets and reject this outrage publicly.
The NYPD more or less behaved themselves while the baffled tourists were around, then let loose when the march reached Harlem. By 110th street two hundred demonstrators were surrounded by at least as many cops, scores of police cars, lines and lines of vans full of armoured riot police and helicopters overhead. Young black men were being picked out of the crowd and cuffed for no other reason than their being there.
Most of the crowd that protested Zimmerman’s acquittal in New York on Sunday were people of color. Perhaps white New Yorkers don’t see this as their fight, or maybe they just had prior dinner reservations.
The focus has been on whether or not black people will riot, and the police have done their best to provoke the required newsreel footage of smashed glass and punches. Like the trial, in which Trayvon was found guilty of his own murder, this is completely backwards. The focus should be on white people. Why have so many of us chosen not to demonstrate? Why have so many apparently intelligent people taken it upon themselves to explain to black people that “race” just doesn’t come into it, that they have been imagining it all along? Why is it that race never comes into it? Why, the night after the verdict, did the young white couple — in the predominantly black subway car I was riding in — choose to loudly agree with one another that the media had blown the case out of all proportion and that the real focus should be on crimes committed by black people?
What many white people have recognised is that the horror of Zimmerman’s acquittal is so obvious that it has opened the possibility for a meaningful shift. One cannot respectably deny the injustice of it, whatever the legality. People like the young couple on the subway car, or Juror B37 — who assured Anderson Cooper that Zimmerman’s “heart was in the right place” — have understood that now is the time they must gloat. People like Florida lawyer Vanessa Braeley, who debated with Gary Younge yesterday on Al Jazeera, have realised that now is the time to find people who’re angry about the murder of Trayvon Martin and to rub their noses in it, to humiliate them by insisting that their anger is foolish, immature.
Gary Younge’s was the standout piece of commentary on the day of the verdict:
Appeals for calm in the wake of such a verdict raise the question of what calm there can possibly be in a place where such a verdict is possible. Parents of black boys are not likely to feel calm. Partners of black men are not likely to feel calm. Children with black fathers are not likely to feel calm. Those who now fear violent social disorder must ask themselves whose interests are served by a violent social order in which young black men can be thus slain and discarded.
[...] Since it was Zimmerman who stalked Martin, the question remains: what ground is a young black man entitled to and on what grounds may he defend himself? What version of events is there for that night in which Martin gets away with his life? Or is it open season on black boys after dark?
From Obama we got the line “We are a nation of laws”. ”We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence,” opined the president who has used his office to pass exactly zero gun control laws. Is a drone a gun? It was curious that just as the Nobel Laureate was urging his citizens to ask themselves whether they’d done enough to prevent violence, the Guardian published a detailed report on his kill list and how it works. The moral basis for Zimmerman’s murdering Trayvon Martin that proved so convincing to the Florida jury looks a lot like the one Obama uses for his drone strikes every single week. Just listen to Robert Gibbs justifying the killing of 16 year old Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, including that awful line “I would suggest that he should have had a far more responsible father.” As we know, everyone killed by the US was killed because they were “up to no good”.
Obama would do well to read historian Robin D.G. Kelley’s insightful reflections on the case, particularly his very astute comparison between the warped “self-defense” logic that has kept Zimmerman out of jail and that of the so-called “war on terror”. Read the whole piece, here are some excerpts:
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Senator Rand Paul, Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley (also sponsor of his state’s Stand Your Ground law), along with a host of other Republicans, argued that had the teachers and administrators been armed, those twenty little kids whose lives Adam Lanza stole would be alive today. Of course, they were parroting the National Rifle Association’s talking points. The NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative lobbying group responsible for drafting and pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws across the country, insist that an armed citizenry is the only effective defense against imminent threats, assailants, and predators.
But when George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, teenage pedestrian returning home one rainy February evening from a neighborhood convenience store, the NRA went mute. Neither NRA officials nor the pro-gun wing of the Republican Party argued that had Trayvon Martin been armed, he would be alive today.
Where was the NRA on Trayvon Martin’s right to stand his ground? What happened to their principled position? Let’s be clear: the Trayvon Martin’s of the world never had that right because the “ground” was never considered theirs to stand on. Unless black people could magically produce some official documentation proving that they are not burglars, rapists, drug dealers, pimps or prostitutes, intruders, they are assumed to be “up to no good.” (In the antebellum period, such documentation was called “freedom papers.”) As Wayne LaPierre, NRA’s executive vice president, succinctly explained their position, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Trayvon Martin was a bad guy or at least looked and acted like one. In our allegedly postracial moment, where simply talking about racism openly is considered an impolitic, if not racist, thing to do, we constantly learn and re-learn racial codes. The world knows black men are criminal, that they populate our jails and prisons, that they kill each other over trinkets, that even the celebrities among us are up to no good. Zimmerman’s racial profiling was therefore justified, and the defense consistently employed racial stereotypes and played on racial knowledge to turn the victim into the predator and the predator into the victim. In short, it was Trayvon Martin, not George Zimmerman, who was put on trial. He was tried for the crimes he may have committed and the ones he would have committed had he lived past 17. He was tried for using lethal force against Zimmerman in the form of a sidewalk and his natural athleticism.
[...] If we do not come to terms with this history, we will continue to believe that the system just needs to be tweaked, or that the fault lies with a fanatical gun culture or a wacky right-wing fringe. We will miss the routine character of such murders: according data compiled by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a black person is killed by the state or by state-sanctioned violence every 28 hours. And we will miss how this history of routine violence has become a central component of the U.S. drone warfare and targeted killing. What are signature strikes if not routine, justified killings of young men who might be Al-caeda members or may one day commit acts of terrorism? It is little more than a form of high-tech racial profiling.
The picture below was taken in Union Square on Sunday evening.