Sunday, July 21, 2013

How might we respond to the murder of Trayvon Martin?

I attended a demonstration last week of people who were appalled at the Florida court decision that found the murderer of Trayvon Martin not guilty.  Clearly George Zimmerman stalked Martin and Trayvon made a phone call where he said he felt threatened by Zimmerman.  Clearly Zimmerman would not have stalked Martin if he was white.  Yet the judge in this case did not allow the issue of race to be mentioned in the trial.

Zimmerman claimed that he acted in self-defense.  However, in order to shoot Trayvon, he needed to take his gun out of the holster and release the safety.  This would have been extremely difficult if he acted in self-defense.  A police officer specifically told Zimmerman not to stalk Trayvon.  In other words, Zimmerman was a vigilante who had his gun out and cocked as he approached Trayvon.  This is clear evidence of premeditated murder.  

District Attorneys normally don’t have much trouble in sending people to prison.  In fact, anyone who lives in this country has a better chance of going to prison than citizens in any other nation in the world.  Black people are grossly over-represented in prison, and the Supreme Court has stated in their decision of McCleskey v. Kemp that they don’t have much problem with this.  Understanding this reality, we can see why so many people have been appalled when the world heard the verdict of not guilty in the murder case against George Zimmerman.

The proposals of how to respond

There have been several proposals as to how to respond to this appalling verdict.  Some people are organizing to repeal the Stand-Your-Ground laws.  These laws make it easier for vigilantes to take the law into their own hands and murder people like Trayvon Martin.

While I would applaud the rescinding of these laws, this will not solve the problems we face.  Police officers murdered Shawn Bell with fifty shots and they were found not guilty.  Police officers murdered Amadu Dialo with forty-one shots and they were found not guilty.  Police officers were filmed viciously beating Rodney King and they were found not guilty.  The repeal of the Stand-Your-Ground laws would not stop the murder of unarmed Black men by police officers.

There are people who demand that Attorney General Eric Holder charge Zimmerman with the hate crime of murdering Trayvon Martin because he was Black.  I would also support this course, but first we might consider the question: Who is Eric Holder?

Before Holder became Attorney General he worked for the law firm Covington & Burling.  Holder represented the corporation Chiquita Brands International.  Chiquita admitted to financing a terrorist organization known as the United Self Defense Forces of Columbia.  Holder brokered a deal where Chiquita paid out $25 million to make up for their support of these murderers. 

The estimate is that this organization murdered about 4,000 people.  Some of the people who this organization murdered attempted to improve the working conditions of banana workers who toiled for Chiquita.

I believe we might keep this in mind when thinking that Attorney General Eric Holder will in any way be interested in a meaningful interpretation of the word justice.  What can we expect from someone who takes money to defend the financiers of mass murderers?

Then, there are people who are working to boycott the state of Florida where the acquittal of Zimmerman took place.  Here we might learn from the words of Malcolm X who lived at a time of Jim Crow segregation.

Malcolm argued to: “Stop talking about the South.  If you’re south of Canada you’re in the South.”

Malcolm also argued against appealing to the federal government to enforce their civil rights laws.  Instead, he proposed appealing to the World Court to place the United States government on trial for human rights violations against the millions of Black people who live in this country.

So, the question continues to be: How do we respond to the murder of Trayvon Martin?  In order to begin to answer this question, we need to look at a bit of history.

Nat Truner, Denmark Vessey, and John Brown

Denmark Vessey and Nat Turner both organized slave rebellions.  State authorities organized their executions as well as the executions of their followers.

Even the Supreme Court in this country ruled in its Dred Scott v. Sanford decision, that they felt slaves were not human beings entitled to rights under the law.

John Brown organized an attack on a garrison at Harpers Ferry in Virginia.  This armed uprising attempted to capture arms that would be used to free slaves.  The uprising was defeated and Robert E. Lee was one of the commanding officers that captured John Brown and his followers.  Like Nat Turner and Denmark Vessey, the government ordered John Brown and his followers to be executed by hanging.
John Brown didn’t anticipate the fact that in just a few years millions of union soldiers would be mobilized to militarily defeat the slave owners.  In the end, it was Robert E. Lee that surrendered the Confederate army at the Appomatox Court House in Virginia.

After the Civil War, Reconstruction Governments emerged in the former Confederate states.  These governments were the most democratic in the history of this country.  For the first time, former slaves as well as poor whites learned how to read and there were many other progressive reforms.

Then, in 1877 the Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered the union army to leave the former Confederate states.  This prompted a counter-revolutionary movement organized by forces that became the Ku Klux Klan.  New governments that enforced Jim Crow segregation replaced the Reconstruction governments.  The Supreme Court, in effect, reversed the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution with their Plessey v. Ferguson decision.

All of this meant that while the Civil War ended slavery, Black people, in effect, lost citizenship rights in this country.  One of the effects of these events was that racist mobs murdered thousands of Black people, and the government almost never did anything about it. 

Ida Wells

Ida Wells was a Black journalist who investigated 728 lynchings in this country.   At the time, many prominent people argued that while these lynchings were wrong, Black men had a tendency to rape white women.  Ida Wells discovered that in one third of these lynchings Black men were not even accused of rape.  In fact, in many cases it was the white women who had pursued Black men.  On the other hand, Wells discovered that there was a long history of white men who raped Black women, where the government never prosecuted the rapists.

As a result of this rein of terror, Ida Wells encouraged Black people to leave her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.  Wells also advised Black people that: “A Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every home.”  “When the white man .  .  .knows he runs as great a risk of biting the dust every time his Afro-American victim does, he will have a greater respect for Afro-American life.”   

The lynching of Claude Neal

Claude Neal was one of the Black men who was lynched in the state of Florida in 1934.  About 10,000 people attended this lynching.  The authorities understood that mobs were forming to lynch Neal.  A judge ordered Neal to be sent to a jail in Alabama to await a trial.

Members of the Ku Klux Klan went to Alabama, attacked the jail, kidnapped Neal, and returned him to Florida to face a lynching.  This lynching was advertised in the local newspapers.

A letter writing campaign was organized to appeal to President Franklyn Roosevelt to intervene to stop this lynching.  Several federal laws had been broken and Roosevelt had taken an oath to enforce the laws of this country.  However, Roosevelt was a Democrat who received support from Jim Crow politicians and refused to intervene to stop the lynching of Claude Neal, or to arrest his murderers.  Roosevelt would also refuse to support legislation specifically designed to stop lynchings in this country.

The lynching of Emmit Till and the civil rights movement

When racists lynched Emmitt Till the time had come for people to mobilize to put an end to the madness of Jim Crow segregation.  First came the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  This was followed by thousands Black people who would rather go to jail, than continue to submit to the laws denying them citizenship rights in this country.

Robert F. Williams was a veteran of the Korean War who lived in Monroe, North Carolina.  Williams organized a chapter of the National Rifle Association in Monroe to defend Black people in that city against the mob violence of the Ku Klux Klan.

The government eventually forced Williams to leave this country.  However, his organization, as well as those who supported Malcolm X, demonstrated that if the government was not going to end Jim Crow, Black people would defend themselves “by any means necessary.”


Martin Robinson Delany was a nationalist and an abolitionist who worked in the Reconstruction governments after the Civil War.  At that time, the dominant point of view was that the Civil War had “freed” the former slaves.  Delany argued that:

A people, to be free, must necessarily be their own rulers: that is, each individual must, in himself embody the essential ingredient—so to speak—of the sovereign principal which composes the true basis of his liberty.”     
Ever since the Civil War, there has been a basic question that I believe we need to answer.  Back people have toiled to produce much of the wealth in this country.  While this is clearly true, do Black people have full citizenship rights in the United States of America?  When the murderer of Trayvon Martin was found not guilty, we might ask: If Trayvon Martin had citizenship rights in this country, wouldn’t his murderer have gone to prison for this crime?

For the last thirty years working people have experienced a deterioration in our standard of living.  Black people have experienced the brunt of the cutbacks.  There has been clear discrimination in education, health care, housing, salaries, as well as access to loans.  Hundreds of thousands of people are being stopped and frisked.  The overwhelming majority of those stopped and frisked are Black.  The murder of Trayvon Martin begs the question as to whether Black people have the right to live free of vigilante hoodlums.

The history of this country gives us a clear vision as to how we need to respond to the murder of Trayvon Martin.  We need to organize a mass movement that demands human dignity for all.  This movement would state clearly that human needs are more important than profits.  This movement would also look at history and state clearly that the only way to solve the enormous problems we face is with a workers and farmers government.  In my opinion, this would be the best way to respond to the murder of Trayvon Martin.

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