We are all Trayvon Martin, even those of us who have never been trapped alone on a dark street on the thin line between life and death.
Throw in the effects of hundreds of years of racism in the United States and you have the situation last month in which a 250 pound self-appointed white vigilante hunts down an unarmed Black child who is screaming “help.” After the vigilante’s bullet rips open the child’s chest, he lies on the ground, gasping for air until he dies.
And thus the streets of a majority-white gated community near Orlando, Fla.,, on February 26, 2012, became a killing field for a Black young man who, despite his high marks in school will never go to college because his chance at life is over. All because he chose the wrong time to visit his father and the wrong time to walk to a store to buy a can of iced tea and a bag of candy.
This is what racism means to children like Trayvon, to mothers and fathers who have, for hundreds of years, lost children like Trayvon and to millions of African American, Latino and Asian people today. Countless people of color have had, in the history of this nation, no chance at all when an individual or group acting as if they were judge and jury, took it upon themselves to hunt, confront, tackle, kick, or beat them into submission or, worse yet, snuff out their lives altogether.
Racism is also why George Zimmermann, the killer, still has not been arrested. It is why the police have failed to carry out this basic response to the crime even though they told Zimmermann to cease his pursuit of Trayvon when the vigilante called them for the 46th time this month about having spotted someone “suspicious.”
Racism is the reason why local police ignored Zimmermann’s own arrest in 2005 for violence and battery against a police officer.
Racism is the reason police ignored complaints from neighbors that Zimmermann was “fixated” on accusing young black males of criminality and it is the reason they ignored complaints from neighbors that he was regularly overly aggressive towards other people.
Racism is the reason that the officer in charge of the crime scene failed in 2010 to arrest a police lietenant’s son who was videotaped as he savagely beat a homeless man.
Racism is the reason police ignored Zimmermann’s violation of the rules of his neigborhood “watch” group – that clearly state members have no police powers, that members should not carry weapons and that they should not engage in their own pursuit of “suspects.”
Racism is the reason police ignored the fact that Zimmermann was not actually a registered member of the community’s official “watch” group.
Racism is the reason police failed to test Zimmermann for drugs or alcohol but did indeed test the lifeless body of Trayvon for the same and it is the reason they kept that body for days before informing the child’s parents of his death. It is the reason they never visited his parents to help ease the shock of that death – something decent police officers always do in cases where murder victims have families.
Racism is the reason someone like Zimmermann gets away with carrying a gun in the first place and it is the reason someone like him can lean on Florida’s “stand your ground” law to claim self defense. How long until the next murderer uses the same law to shield himself from the consequences of his acts? How long before the next group of drunken patrons in a bar somewhere decide to go out and hunt down some more victims, using the same law as a pretext for more murders?
Racism, beyond this case, allows us to denounce the alleged atrocities of Kony in far away Africa but to overlook the Trayvon Martins.
But there is hope because from one end of the nation to the other great majorities of the people, Black and white, Latino and Asian, are rising up in outrage against what has happened. Witness the demonstrations and the marches. Witness the belated, but welcome intervention by the Justice Department.
Witness the fight against the outrageous right wing laws against immigrants and witness the outpouring against discriminatory voter ID laws.
Witness the revival and strengthening of the historic and great civil rights-labor alliance that resulted in the smashing of Jim Crow laws in the 20th century and that promises to build and is building a united movement for civil rights and workers rights in the 21st century.
The country that has seen the election three years ago of its first African American president and the formation since then of a growing and united movement for economic and social justice is a country capable of putting an end to the pervasive poison of racism.
Much progress has been made: much more needs to be done. The anti-racist majority that elected Barack Obama in 2008 and a Democratic majority still exits; its power must be felt in demanding that Zimmerman be arrested and the police chief removed. It must challenge the Fox News-fed tea party atmosphere that promotes and feeds on racism fear and intolerance. And needless to say, it must defeat these elements in November.
Trayvon Martin can never be brought back to life. There is no way to ever make right what has happened to him. But building a powerful movement that rejects racism and that rejects the right wing extremists and their horrible disregard of what makes us all human will lay the groundwork for a better society in the future. People in that society will look back at this murder as a horrific part of a past history that will have been put to rest forever.
Photo: Associated Press