† 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.
After Trayvon Martin, Revisited
by Kay Whitlock with Nancy A. Heitzeg
Editors Note: This piece was originally published more than a year ago, not long after George Zimmerman’s long overdue arrest. At the time, the location of this case within the historical context of lynching was already clear.
Today, even more so.
Yes, there have been many many Trayvon Martins in the days since his death.
A 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 , notes this:
Every 28 hours in 2012 someone employed or protected by the US government killed a Black man, woman, or child.
But it is not just the tolerated death toll that evokes the imagery of lynching. Not just the blatant extra-legal executions for the crime of being Black/Brown that shapes the connections between Then and Now.
It is Trial as Spectacle.
The Spectacle — the stunningly large crowds, the publicity, the physical “mementos” the postcards – is often over-looked in our sanitized re-telling of lynching. (Too long and bloody a history to recount here — see Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940 By Amy Louise Wood.)
As the Addendum to this piece notes, it has always been clear that the Defense strategy would be to put Trayvon Martin and the Criminal-Black-Man Archetype on trial.
But The Spectacle demands even more. It is now Collective Blackness on Trial.
One need look no further than the savaging of Rachel Jeantel – the last person to Witness Trayvon Alive. (See also Rachel Jeantel: Through A Glass Darkly.. and Public reaction to Rachel Jeantel: Evidence that race still matters). Deemed by many – including Defense Attorney Don West and his entitled daughters –too, too.. well, Black to be a “credible” witness.
Save the technological advances evidenced by television and Twitter and the 24-7 sensationalist news cycle – how far have we really come from these headlines that announce the impending death of one Claude Neal, brutalized, Greenwood, Florida, 1934 ?
“Mob Holds Negro; Invitations Issued For Lynch Party
‘All White Folks’ Invited To Party
Thousands In Throng To See Florida Mob Murder Negro”