† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
Of The Verdict, Whiteness,and Abolition
by nancy a heitzeg
“Let it be noted that on this day, Saturday 13 July 2013, it was still deemed legal in the US to chase and then shoot dead an unarmed young black man on his way home from the store because you didn’t like the look of him.” ~ Gary Younge, The Guardian
Emerging from the paralyzing space between rage and deep sorrow, we speak of Travyon Martin again:
“Seventeen years and 21 days. Forever. He was a son. He was a brother. He was a friend. And the last thing he did on this earth was try to get home. “
Peace and more strength to his family and friends.
What else shall we say ?
“Our country’s national crime is lynching. It is not the creature of an hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It represents the cool, calculating deliberation of intelligent people…” ~ Lynch Law in America, Ida B. Wells
Oh, we could focus on the many specifics of the murder, the belated arrest and trial. The pathological tendencies of the self-appointed vigilante who should have just driven to the store. The complicity of the Sundown Town Sanford Police Department or the failure of the Angela Corey-lead prosecution to deliver on the case they never wanted anyway – too ill-prepared and passive, too little and too late.
Or Judge Nelson’s many pro-defense rulings, especially the barring of the term RACE as prefix to any mention of profiling, thereby officially stamping as color-blind a crime and a trial that was marked -start to finish – by the same. Much could be said of that gerrymandered jury too — all women, mostly white and devoid of blackness – who in the end ruled out of deep seated fear and abdicated all common sense. Perhaps too in favor of seeking book deals.
But, in the end, those are the distracting details. What must be discussed is the larger verdict rendered by white supremacy.
The verdict was both feared and expected. It was shaped by an entire legal system – devoted not to “justice” – but to protection of Whiteness with all its attendant property, both literal and conceptual. As Robin R.G. Kelley notes in The U.S. v. Trayvon Martin:
our entire political and legal foundations were built on an ideology of settler colonialism—an ideology in which the protection of white property rights was always sacrosanct; predators and threats to those privileges were almost always black, brown, and red; and where the very purpose of police power was to discipline, monitor, and contain populations rendered a threat to white property and privilege.
The case of U.S. v Trayvon Martin is precisely possible because of this. The case is one of many in what we have called here the War on Blackness, where 2.3 million people – disproportionately people of color - languish in our prisons and jails.
Source: Public Welfare Foundation
Consider this too :
These killings – every 28 hours in 2012 someone employed or protected by the US government killed a Black man, woman, or child – come on top of other forms of oppression black people face. Mass incarceration of nonwhites is one of them. While African-Americans constitute 13.1% of the nation’s population, they make up nearly 40% of the prison population. Even though African-Americans use or sell drugs about the same rate as whites, they are 2.8 to 5.5 times more likely to be arrested for drugs than whites. Black offenders also receive longer sentences compared to whites. Most offenders are in prison for nonviolent drug offenses.
The results – in aggregate as the verdict in specific – are what we have come to expect from a system founded and grounded in the protection of Whiteness.
And what shall we do?
“What is a mob, actually? We say the word, and tend to think of a crowd of people. But a mob is not a crowd: it is a state of mind.” “The Mob and the Ghost,” in The Winner Names the Age, Lillian Smith
In the aftermath of the verdict, there is talk of Boycott Florida ( and Stevie Wonder will!) and pleas to the Department of Justice to bring, in their re-opened investigation, Federal Civil Rights charges against George Zimmerman. Talks of challenges to Stand Your Ground laws and calls for more gun regulation.
Most importantly, people – all people – marched again – as they had before demanding at least an arrest and trial. Marched in the tens of thousands.. Everywhere. Haven’t stopped yet.
Perhaps the outrage over the murder and the not guilty verdict will shine a light back further on the foundations of a unjust system – one that CI seeks to expose every week. Maybe it will explode the myth of “Post-Racial” America. From Mychal Denzel Smith at The Nation – Trayvon Martin: From Lament to Rallying Cry:
Trayvon’s name became a rallying cry. It mingled with the call-and-response chants of “No justice, no peace!” and “Hey hey, ho ho, the new Jim Crow has got to go!” The police did what they could to stop the march, but in the end they just weren’t any match for the power of a people determined to fight the injustice in this country…
What’s next is that each of us take whatever gift we have and use it in a way that honors and values black life. That is the legacy Trayvon Martin can leave to this world.
For any sort of “justice” – for Trayvon, any of us – this must occur. The entire endeavor of mass criminalization – from stereotyping to racial profiling to arrest, incarceration, legal/extra-legal death – is rendered possible by complicity.
Especially the complicity of those who benefit from Whiteness. This will be the challenge.
Whiteness, that empty cultureless privilege marker, and the white supremacist structures that uphold it must be confronted.
White people this is our work — do not appropriate the name of Trayvon Martin or Black people’s pain, grief, anger and struggle. These cannot be commodities or props for anti-racist credentials. Protest in solidarity. Stand with the Living and the Dead. But you do not, cannot, fathom the depth of the pain induced by systemic racism, as it has never been directed towards you. Honor this.
Examine your privilege but do not dwell here — this is merely the first stage. You must then discard it/defuse it as you can or use it as a platform to bring the requisite pressure. Confront racism, everyday and institutional, wherever you see it, whoever brings it, however painful. Defy Whiteness.
Educate yourselves on the long bloody history of white supremacy world-wide and in particular, as the cornerstone of USA criminal injustice. Do not ask people of color to demonstrate this for you or engage in yet another dialogue about “race”. Listen, read — then teach other white people. Do it yourself.
Transpose your own outrage at The Verdict onto Outrage at All the Verdicts, at the very system rooted in the condemnation of Blackness. Excuse it no longer — recognize the reality of the criminal injustice system and the racism it upholds. Abhor it.