Trayvon Martin: Who’s to Blame?
The Concurrent Tragedy of the Trayvon Martin Case and Our Political Confusions
Following what could only be called a high ratings show trial, Latino neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman was acquitted by an all-female jury in the killing of unarmed New Afrikan/Black teenager Trayvon Martin. Almost instantly, masses of outraged Black people and sympathizers took to the streets in protest. All felt “betrayed” by a so-called justice system that has never served them to begin with.
What they didn’t understand is, from the beginning, the establishment’s entire response to Trayvon’s killing was a staged performance aimed to contain and “channel” public anger, to deflect the system’s own responsibility in manufacturing the very culture that led to Trayvon’s murder and that of multitudes of our youth at the hands of cops and vigilantes, and to protect the status quo.
Trayvon, like many of our youth, was targeted and killed based upon prevailing slanders and criminal stereotypes of young New Afrikan males, projected by the government working hand-in-hand with the mainstream entertainment and “news” media: outlets which the masses of New Afrikan and common people neither own nor control.
Zimmerman, without doubt under such influences, felt an overzealous urge to “protect” his gated community from the menace of a hooded young Black male walking about, who was likely (in Zimmerman’s media-hyped mind) up to some criminal mischief. Trayvon (thus racially profiled), had to be “kept in his place,” which, in the minds of folks of elevated social status, means out of their living space. So Zimmerman ended up pushing Trayvon out of this life altogether.
Trayvon’s death triggered waves of protest from a long-suffering people, enraged at yet another example of poor Black life being of no value and persecuted in Amerika. Where yet another of our youth was profiled and gunned down in cold blood by cops and their imitators. Justice was demanded against the system, which has always dealt us injustice and which by criminalizing our youth to the broader public was rightly to blame for Trayvon’s death.
The troupe comes to town
In stepped career camera shark and Black capitalist windbag Al Sharpton, who, loyal to the system as ever, moved to contain mass protest and steer it into the system’s own “safe” channels of resolution: the courts. Thus was applied the same tried and true tactic a panicked John F. Kennedy implemented in 1963 against an unwitting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to gain official control of the March on Washington, which was originally organized by masses of poor Blacks who planned to lay siege on the U.S. Capital and not leave, in protest against the same sorts of abuses, including widespread murders of Black youth by police and vigilantes, from which we are still suffering today.
True to his politics, Sharpton weaseled his way into becoming the spokesman for Trayvon’s distraught family, and through the all-too-accommodating mainstream media, counseled the riled-up masses to look to the courts for justice. The same courts that alongside the murderous police are disposing of masses of our young males in the world’s largest, brutal, and profit-oriented prison system . . . a system widely recognized as the “New Jim Crow.”1
Recall it was against the “old” Jim Crow system that the old Civil Rights Movement was fought. Indeed, the U.S. government killed King because he woke up and realized that it was the system itself at the source of everyone’s suffering, and he thus broke with the old Civil Rights program of looking to the same system as a savior.2 This is why types like Sharpton, who remain loyal to the old pro-capitalist Civil Rights program, have us seeking justice from the forces of government behind today’s Jim Crow.
Only a terribly confused people would fall for such a trick as this (again!), which is like directing a coop of chickens to put their fate into the hands of a den of foxes.
Then, right on cue, the system trotted out from backstage yet another insider and token dark face (the Florida Attorney General), who promised to deliver just the sort of justice that ol’ Uncle (Tom) Al was crowing for. But of course it was all a show, an old script with actors new and old played out to yet again lasso and hogtie public outrage and protest in the face of yet another Black tragedy until things simmered down, so the system could go on about its usual business—until the next tragedy provoked another round of angry mass protest.
Be careful what you ask for
So after much hemming and hawing, the next scene was staged: criminal charges were issued against Zimmerman and a show trial was underway.
But as Mumia Abu-Jamal observed in his July 8th commentary predicting, “The Coming Acquittal,” each of the prosecution’s witnesses were “flipped,” becoming witnesses for Zimmerman, as the prosecuting attorney himself proved completely incompetent in handling the case and definitely unsuited to win a conviction.
Stage trial, y’all
And so, with the cast of actors having played their designated roles, Zimmerman was acquitted . . . and folks were riled up again. But this time the system had a ready retort designed to make further protest look absurd. It responded, “But we gave you and Trayvon’s family what you asked for—a criminal prosecution. It’s not our fault that a jury of your peers acquitted. That’s the system of justice at work!” So rather than recognizing the entire farce for what it was, folks felt deflated and moped about in disbelief that “the jury really let him off!”
Redirecting the rage—to divide and rule
Alongside all this was also the divide, agitate, and rule tactic, where the system—in ways open and subtle—played up Black versus Latino antagonisms to channel much of the mass anger away from itself and play the oppressed masses against themselves. Because we don’t understand that the capitalist system and its political conniving are at the root of all our mounting tragedies and suffering, many fall victim to its using tragedies like Trayvon’s killing and Zimmerman’s acquittal to drive a wedge between its victims, like New Afrikans and Latino/as, groups that it is rightly terrified of uniting as politically conscious allies in struggle to tear down this rotten system, to empower all working class, poor, and others who are disadvantaged, oppressed, and exploited by this system and its super-rich owners. We must not allow such divide and conquer schemes to work.
As George Jackson once observed, it is the system itself that manufactures a thousand different categories of contradictions and divisions among the people, so that its small group of wealthy owners can continue to rule. Our ignorance is their weapon against us.
Zimmerman wanted to be a cop because that’s the role of “heroes” glamorized by the status quo since the pigs are their protectors, not ours. He felt a need to keep poor Black people in line because that is one of the principal functions of the pigs in service to the status quo. And he killed Trayvon because violent terror is how the pigs keep the oppressed masses at the lowest levels in line. And this system of terror is justified and projected as the inalienable and unchallengeable right and entitlement of pigs to use, by the criminalization of the oppressed.
So we see routine pig murders of our youth dismissed by the system as “justifiable homicide.” And this is why Zimmerman had to be protected from punishment by that very system (since he was playing the role of a cop as against the member of a criminalized group who was in the wrong place). But Zimmerman had to be protected indirectly and in such a way as to pretend that the system was responsive to the people’s cry for justice for the murder of yet another innocent New Afrikan by a cop (or a cop wanna-be).
They couldn’t just ignore irate Black folks taking to the streets, since they remember—even if we don’t—that almost every major urban uprising of New Afrikans was provoked by incidents of police murders or beatings of our people, from the 1960s urban revolts, to the uprising in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, from the 2002 revolt in Benton Harbor, Michigan to the 2005 Toledo, Ohio uprising, etc. And in the wake of many of these revolts came conscious political awakening and organizing that genuinely threatened the system from below.
So, as they say in litigation, the end result was “a convenient convergence of outcomes” that were win-win for the establishment and lose-lose for the People.
We lost in that yet another of our innocent young lives was stolen through the institutionalized and culturally rationalized terror of the system used to keep us in check since slavery days, and in that we not only won no justice yet again, but we also still have not learned the lesson that this system cannot be “fixed” and it means us no good. The system won in that it quelled and diverted our outrage into nonthreatening (to itself) channels including against other sectors of the oppressed, and it continues with its usual business of playing and profiting off us all.
The capitalist system is the enemy
The system is the problem. Black cops brutalize and murder Black youth just as viciously as any white cop. As do Latino/as. In fact, under the openly racist system of South Afrikan Apartheid, it was commonly Afrikan soldiers and police who, working for the racist regime, committed many of the most brutal atrocities against their own people. Divide and conquer. Capitalism survives by playing Black against Black, against white, against Latino/a, women against men, old against young, ad nauseam—it’s the same old Willie Lynch game of dividing the oppressed against themselves that insulates the wealthy oppressors from the united resistance of their victims.
It works only because we are politically confused, and therefore believe such political tricks as the system’s placing a few token dark faces in high places is a real gain for the masses of oppressed nationalities and people of color. We don’t see the reality that these are instead old and well-established political tactics of mass control.
Until we wake up and recognize that this capitalist imperialist system is at the root of all our problems, we’ll keep suffering tragic losses and being manipulated by political opportunists and their sleight of hand and empty rhetoric. We must recognize and remedy the fact that the greatest weapon the system has against us is our own ignorance.
Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!
Kevin “Rashid” Johnson is Minister of Defense, New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC). His writings and artwork have been widely circulated. He is the author of Defying the Tomb: Selected Prison Writings and Art of Kevin Rashid Johnson, Featuring Exchanges with an Outlaw, (Kersplebedeb, 2010).
Kevin Johnson TDCI # 01859887
Clements Unit 9601 Spur 591
1 Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
2 William F. Pepper, An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King.