Protesting the George Zimmerman acquittal for killing Trayvon Martin. Source: http://www.mkdnews.com/2013/07/protesti-vo-sad-za-osloboditelnata-presuda-za-zimerman-videofoto/
by Alicia Garza (Oakland)
The acquittal of George Zimmerman exposed the blatant racism of the United States justice system, but we shouldn’t stop there. In a so-called post racial society where everything and nothing is about race, we witnessed yet again that if you are a Black man in America, your life does not matter and you will likely be put on trial for your own murder. However, what similar cases, like that of CeCe McDonald (2012), Marissa Alexander (2012), and the New Jersey Four (2007), have shown us is that if you are Black and a woman or gay or transgendered in America, you are also disposable. What remains to be seen is how we who seek freedom and justice make the connections that will allow us to be the strong force that we so desperately need to be in order to achieve our goals.
“Stand Your Ground” laws allegedly give all individuals the right to use deadly force to defend themselves without any requirement to retreat or avoid a dangerous situation. In a post-racial society where everything and nothing is about race, these laws were cast into the national spotlight when State Attorney Angela Corey had to be pressured to arrest and charge Zimmerman, and didn’t do so until more than a month after he murdered Trayvon Martin in cold blood, on the basis that Zimmerman was protected under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws.
Yet another Florida resident, Marissa Alexander, was not afforded the same treatment as Zimmerman. Having given birth just nine days prior, Alexander fired a warning shot in the air during a fight with her husband—who’d allegedly beaten her during her pregnancy and had a history of domestic violence—and was sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Similarly, CeCe McDonald, a 23-year old transgender woman, was attacked when walking past a bar in Minnesota with four friends, all of whom were Black. A group of people hanging outside the bar began calling McDonald and her friends “faggot” and “nigger.” Dean Schmitz, one of the people in the group harassing McDonald and her friends said, “Look at that boy dressed as a girl tucking her dick in.” As they tried to walk away, Schmitz’s ex-girlfriend hit McDonald in the face with a glass of alcohol and sliced open her cheek. A fight ensued and when McDonald again tried to walk away from the scene, Schmitz followed her. When McDonald turned around to face her attacker with a pair of scissors in her hand, the man was stabbed and ultimately died. Though McDonald was defending herself against multiple physical attacks, she was also denied the right to stand her ground. She was sentenced to nearly three and a half years in a men’s prison.
Yet again in the 2007 case of the “New Jersey Four”—a case in which seven young Black women, all of whom are lesbians from New Jersey were walking in the West Village in New York when they were physically attacked by a man who held them down and choked them, ripped hair from their scalps, spat on them, and threatened to sexually assault them and “f—k them straight,” the laws were unevenly applied. They dared to stand their ground, and four of the seven women were charged, and received sentences that ranged from three and a half to eleven years in prison. None of them had previous criminal records and two of them are mothers of young children.
In all three cases, Black women were denied their right to stand their ground and were prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, denied not only “equal protection under the law” but their ability to access their human dignity by fighting back against racist, sexist and homophobic attacks. In the case of George Zimmerman, a Latino whose mother describes her background as “Afro-Peruvian” and whose father is white, anti-Black racism was a credible defense for murdering someone’s child in cold blood. We can also say that anti-Black racism, buoyed by sexism and homophobia fueled the decision to prosecute these two women after they merely tried to save their own lives, and is the dividing line between who is afforded justice in this country and who is not.
Trayvon Martin’s unnecessary and untimely death has re-ignited national initiatives designed around Black men and boys; has had the Dream Defenders and POWER U Youth from Miami, Florida occupying the State Capitol for nearly a month now demanding significant changes to that state’s Stand Your Ground laws by introducing “Trayvon’s Law,” and hundreds walking across the state to draw attention to the daily slaughter of Black men. These are incredible efforts that have captured the hearts and minds of a nation, and given oxygen to the latent and not so latent rage that Black people feel in this country. We need those and more like those to bring about the kind of change necessary in this country for everyone to live with dignity and respect. We need initiatives that are paying attention and fighting back against the hyper-criminalization and subjugation of Black people in the United States, of which still the majority are Black men.A young Sister at an Oakland, CA Trayvon Martin vigil 2013.
And if movement building and building power to achieve Black liberation is about connecting the dots and building relationships between sectors who are impacted by state repression, violence and genocide, we have an opportunity to elevate the ways in which all Black people are impacted. We can shape this national motion to not be siloed but instead be about the right of survival for all Black people. We have an opportunity to lift up CeCe McDonald and Marissa Alexander and the New Jersey Four every single time someone mentions Trayvon’s name, because all Black lives matter—not just some. Black women are the fastest growing segment of the US prison population, and Black transgender folks and gay, lesbian, and bisexual folks are part of that as well. This is our opportunity to elevate the ways in which Black male and Black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered bodies are policed, criminalized and targeted for captivity and subjugation and ultimately, for murder. This is our opportunity to expose the racist, sexist, and homophobic tendencies of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and others like them who give cover to and build power for the corporations who exploit, terrorize, and kill our people. This is our opportunity to call for a complete overhaul of this so-called justice system which provides little more than misery for millions of families with a loved one inside.
Because we have these opportunities, we know that any effective effort to organize Black people in our own defense and towards our liberation must not stop at Black men and boys. Our efforts, must in fact, illuminate and eliminate the multifaceted ways in which all Black people are targeted by the state for exploitation, criminalization, and ultimately, death. Our unified cry must be that all Black lives matter, and we will not rest until it comes.