From the new September-October 2013 issue of News & Letters:
Outrage at Trayvon Martin injustice
Los Angeles marches
Los Angeles—On Saturday, July 13, when the media announced that the jury had found George Zimmerman—who had stalked and murdered unarmed Trayvon Martin as he was walking home on the night of Feb. 26, 2012—not guilty in Sanford, Fla., people started gathering at Leimert Park in the Black community to address their anger. There were gatherings at Leimert Park for the next four days.
On July 14, 200 to 300 Mexicans, Latinas and some whites, Asians and Blacks gathered in the Boyle Heights Mariachi Plaza for justice for Trayvon Martin. Next to the speakers’ podium was a large photo of Trayvon Martin with the words, “We are all Trayvon,” with flowers and candles in front of the photo. A Mexican woman said many women are in tears because their children are either killed or imprisoned.
On July 20, the national day of Justice for Trayvon Martin, 500 to 800 protestors—mostly Black, but also white, Asian and Latino—gathered at the downtown Federal Building, with banners and T-shirts: “Injustice and racism more terrifying than hoodies” and “There must be those among us whom we can sit down and weep and still be counted as warriors—Adrienne Rich.”
The organizers led the crowd on a nine-mile march to Leimert Park, where another rally was held. During the open mic, people loudly protested that only those who marched all nine miles were allowed to speak.
Trayvon and Oscar Grant
Oakland, Calif.-—On July 13, some 250 took to the streets of Oakland after George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin. As the protest raged late into the night, there was property damage and arrests. The following afternoon an eight-mile march took an unplanned route through West Oakland, swelling to 1,200 at its peak as Black residents from the neighborhoods joined in.
The next Friday a group of clean-cut Black clergymen dressed in suits, i.e., no hoodies, led 150 people on a quiet march, protesting police brutality, from City Hall to the Fruitvale BART station, where Oscar Grant had been murdered, for a candlelight vigil. Mainstream media characterized the first two events as violent, meandering and aimless, while gushing over the clergy-led march as peaceful, orderly and focused.
The racist murderers of Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant were orderly and focused, but not very peaceful.
In Chicago with Emmett Till
Chicago—Thousands of people showed up in downtown Federal Plaza July 20 to protest the racist acquittal of George Zimmerman for Trayvon Martin’s murder. The protest was sponsored by liberal groups and WVON radio, with speakers like Rev. Jesse Jackson and former Alderman Cliff Kelley. But beneath the liberal surface beat a revolutionary heart.
The vast majority of people who attended were Black Chicagoans. The speakers were being driven to articulate thoughts and feelings that were widely shared. This included both the calls for economic justice and Fr. Michael Pfleger’s denunciation of historical and contemporary genocide.
Airicka Gordon-Taylor, a younger cousin of Emmett Till, spoke, and the history of Black freedom struggle was right to the fore: “When I heard the verdict I said, Wow! This is what this must have felt like, 58 years ago. All I could think was that the festering sores of injustice were torn open all over again for my family. The wound is still there unhealed.
“This is what it feels like today when they’re trying to abolish our voting rights. This is what it feels like when our substandard school systems and closures are mounting in numbers beyond the 1950s. When our teachers are working in horrible conditions. Lack of technology in communities of color—this is what it feels like. I charge our youth today: Remain vigilant! Remain vocal and visible! Don’t lose your momentum, because the past is now your present! Amadou Diallo, Howard Morgan, Stephon Watts, Oscar Grant, Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin—the past is now your present!”
Trayvon Martin’s murder forced a wide recognition of the true nature of American history. Compromise isn’t even skin deep—as always, the alternatives remain a revolutionary transformation of this society, or new forms of racist reaction.
Outpouring in Raleigh, N.C.
Raleigh, N.C.—On July 14, the day after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Black Workers for Justice called for an emergency rally downtown in Moore Square, in economically marginalized southeast Raleigh. About 100 people attended. Community members shared our outrage, grief, frustration, anger and calls to organize.
Two young Black men asked us to remember their friend Shon McClain, an inmate at Raleigh Central prison who had been beaten to death on June 4 by a prison guard. A white woman urged whites to educate friends and family about racial profiling and white people’s responsibility to work to dismantle racism.
The following Sunday the NC-NAACP organized a rally that also began in Moore Square. Up to 3,000 people came to honor Trayvon Martin. One speaker called on people to sit in, occupy buildings, march, rally, protest and organize. We then marched ten blocks to Martin Street Baptist Church, a mostly Black church and a hub of civil rights organizing.
Participants packed in, filling the choir loft, aisles, pulpit and hallways. Hundreds remained outside in the sweltering humidity. People carried signs: “17 and Unarmed,” “End White Supremacy!” “Do I Look Guilty?” “Stop Killing My People,” and “Unjust Laws Kill.”
Black women took the stage to share stories of their daily struggles to protect their Black sons. One said that when Zimmerman was found innocent, it sent a message to all Black boys that the U.S. legal system deems them worthless. She vowed to tell her children every day that they are beautiful, loved and as good as any other person.
Rev. William Barber, president of the NC-NAACP and lead organizer of the Moral Monday movement in which nearly 1,000 North Carolinians were arrested for civil disobedience at the NC General Assembly over the summer, reminded us that North Carolina also has stand your ground laws. Barber urged everyone to register people to vote and to fight against the onslaught of regressive laws passed in the last legislative session.
Young people are at the forefront of calling for justice for Trayvon Martin. The NC Student Power Union, NC HEAT (Heroes Emerging Among Teens) and other grassroots groups are uniting with workers and community organizations to stop the attacks on education and public services. They are brilliantly making the links among many forms of oppression and the murder of Trayvon Martin. The movement is alive, strong and growing—and this is perhaps the most powerful way we honor Trayvon and move closer to true liberation.
NYC marches for Trayvon
New York—As the news of the racist verdict on the Trayvon Martin case spread through poor and working class neighborhoods, everyone filled Union Square; soon there were over 8,000 protestors.
People held handmade signs denouncing the verdict. Others had printed signs with the image of a young Black man in a hoodie with the caption “We are all Trayvon.” The most incredible part of the rally was its multiracial and youthful character. Many young white people knew that they also had to take a stand.
Then the march began, with no official permit asked for or granted. Thousands took over Broadway, defying the police and chanting “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” Soon Times Square was also filled with protesters. It grew in size as people from north of Union Square and Times Square joined in.
Eventually the march reached historic 125th St. in Harlem, where the youthful marchers again took control of the streets, although there had already been arrests. Then people headed up Malcolm X Boulevard and rallied at Harlem Hospital. Around 200 continued to the South Bronx and held a rally at the Court House.
What stood out is how the youth took control of the streets and defied Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD. This was a night for revolutionary youth, for young people sick of a racist system that lets the murderers of young Blacks and Latinos walk free from their crimes.
New York City is no stranger to this. We still remember Ramarley Graham, the Black teenager shot and killed in his own house in the Bronx by a cop last year; we remember Amadou Diallo, the hard-working African immigrant shot 41 times by the hired guns of the NYPD. We have long memories and, like the old song says, it’s time for justice.