† 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.
Remembering Trayvon Martin, Special Edition of ProudFlesh
by nancy a heitzeg
CI is thankful for the publication of a Special Travyon Martin Issue of ProudFlesh: New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics, and Consciousness. Although this journal usually requires a subscription, the editors have made this issue free and available in perpetuity, and are encouraging its’ use in classroom and community education. If you are interested in accessing the entire issue , just go to the link above and create an account for free access.
A special issue on Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African-American teenager killed by George Zimmerman, while walking home. May your soul rest in peace (February 5, 1995 – February 26, 2012). The issue is guest-edited by Azuka Nzegwu, Ph.D.
The issue chronicles the case from the initial petition for prosecution from Tracy Martin and Sabrina Fulton through the trial and aftermath with the work of artists, musician, scholars, poets, activists. An editorial by Azuka Nzegwu, PhD opens the journal and is reprinted below. Appropriately, the issue closes with the recent report issued by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Operation Ghetto Storm: 2012 Annual Report on the extrajudicial killing of 313 Black people by police, security guards and vigilantes and Let Your Motto Be Resistance (covered here in The War on Black ~ “Color-blindness” and Criminalization, Part 1 and Part 2)
Readers may recognize several pieces that have been published at CI: Am I Next? by Rodney Coates, After Trayvon Martin Revisited by Kay Whitlock with Nancy A. Heitzeg, Of the Verdict, “Whiteness” and Abolition by Nancy A. Heitzeg, and What Would Real Justice for Trayvon Martin Look Like? by Kay Whitlock.
We are so honored to be included here.
So as we approach a day of thanks giving, CI would like to thank ProudFlesh for creating this issue and making it available for all. Thank you to Azuka Nzegwu, PhD for allowing us to reprint the introductory editorial. Thank you to everyone, everywhere who helped create awareness around the Martin case and the too many that resemble it. And special thanks to @princss6 and a Twitter storm that keeps on bringing the news, even now. Thanks to so many others, too many to name.
No Justice/No Peace.
Trayvon – Jasiri X
On February 12, 2012, during the half-time of the National Basketball All-Stars game, Trayvon Martin, a seventeen year-old teenager visiting his father and his fiancée in the gated community of The Retreat in Sanford, Florida, went to a neighborhood convenience store. He bought a bag of Skittles and AriZona ice tea. On his way home, he was spotted by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who was patrolling the street in his truck. Upon spotting Trayvon, Zimmerman began watching him and called 911 to report a suspicious man walking in his neighborhood. The 911 dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon, but Zimmerman ignored the instruction and pursued Trayvon on foot.
According to Zimmerman, when he approached Trayvon, they exchanged words and Trayvon attacked him so he killed Trayvon in self-defense. In an audio released by the police, we hear someone screaming for help before a gun was fired. After the shot, the screaming stopped. Zimmerman was not arrested after the killing, because the police took him at his word that he was defending himself. According to Florida’s controversial law, Stand Your Ground, you can use lethal force to protect yourself if your life is in danger. Trayvon was unarmed when Zimmerman killed him. Forty-two days after his death, regional and national protests ensued, and a Change.org petition started by his parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton to bring their son’s killer to justice, garnered two million, two hundred and seventy eight thousand, nine hundred and eighty four signatures. The petition was the biggest in the history of Change.org. Zimmerman was finally arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
The trial, State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman was televised. The judge, Debra Nelson, banned the introduction of race in the case. Zimmerman did not testify on his behalf. On July 13, 2013, a jury of six white women and one Hispanic woman found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Meanwhile, the same jury found the deceased guilty of aggravated assault and battery with intent to kill or maim. After the trial was over, two of the jurors gave interviews. The first juror, a white woman, made disparaging remarks that suggested her opinions were already made before the trial and that Trayvon was responsible for his death. The second juror, the Hispanic woman, believed that Zimmerman murdered Martin, but was not convinced that the State proved their case.
The senseless and tragic murder of Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager was troubling. In the aftermath of the killing and the national protests that ensued, a series of historical grievances against African-Americans were front and center. The litany of grievances include racism, race relations, racial profiling, inequality, and vigilante killing, that are reminiscent of the Fugitive Slave Law period. The unmasking of these tensions ignited a national debate on race and racism, focusing attention on the embedded racism in the American legal system and the profiling of Black and Latino youths and men by law enforcement agencies.
Fifty-eight years earlier, the brutal murder of fourteen year-old, Emmett Till, had occurred. Till was tortured, beaten, with his eyes gouged out, and shot in the head. Till’s crime, at that time in 1955, was that he said “Bye baby” to a white woman, the wife of a shopkeeper, Carolyn Bryant, now Carolyn Donham. His mutilated body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River by Roy Bryant, the husband of Carolyn, and his brother, J. W. Milam. It was weighed down by a cotton gin until it surfaced three days later. Although Emmett’s case is not a direct parallel to Trayvon Martin’s, who was killed while walking in the gated community where his father and his fiancée lived, it shed light on the pattern of racism that pervades the country then and now. In the aftermath of Trayvon’s death, there has been others, including nineteen year-old college student Kendrec McDade, who was killed in March 2012 by two Pasadena policemen, and thirteen year-old Darius Simmons murdered in front of his house in the presence of his mother, by John Henry Spooner, a seventy-seven year-old white man.
As with all these tragedies, Trayvon believed he had every right to go about his business. Simmons was in front of his house, a place anyone should feel secure, and Kendrec was in the street. What world are we living in when African-American boys and men continue to be pursued, criminalized, and killed by police and vigilantes? What are we to make of these senseless killings? What do we say to the mothers who bury their sons? The message then, and now, whether it is “Bye Baby” or walking home with a bag of Skittles, is that Black boys and men are perceived as threats that need to be contained and dealt with. Even in 2013, in a country that elected its first Black president, and sees itself as post-racial, racism is still very much in effect. The structural elements of racist ideology that devalues and dehumanizes Black life is ever present.
When Trayvon Martin was profiled and gunned down, his killer did not see his humanity, dignity, or personhood. Neither did the jurors. I recall Bob Marley’s “Haile Selassie is the Chapel,” a spiritual poignant song that is apt for this moment. Marley reminds us that in times of difficulty and injustice, to “Take your troubles to Selassie / He is the only King of Kings (King of Kings, King of Kings is he).” Trayvon, you are a son, a brother, and somebody. You cannot imagine the aching that your mother and father feels about your passing, nor comprehend the vacuum your passing left. We think of your last moments as you lay screaming for help and nobody came. We are mad. We are mad because we believed that America has overcome its racist legacy, and has become a better place. We want to assure you that we will remember and honor you by working for the transformation of America into the nation that it ought to be.
I close with the lyrics of Bob Marley’s “Haile Selassie is the Chapel.”