Read

Search form

Zimmerman's Acquittal and the Call for a New Civil Rights Movement

Zimmerman's Acquittal and the Call for a New Civil Rights Movement
Mon, 7/15/2013 - by Mark Vorpahl

George Zimmerman has been found innocent of both second-degree murder and manslaughter for the killing of Trayvon Martin. In spite of Zimmerman's history as a neighborhood watchman employing racial profiling; in spite of the fact that he was armed with a gun and Trayvon was not; in spite of the fact that he stalked Trayvon in a way that anyone would find threatening; in spite of his recorded menacing comments about "f...king punks," that "these assholes always get away"; and in spite of his defiance of a 911 operator who told him he did not need to follow Trayvon, Zimmerman is free.

On the other hand, Trayvon has been found guilty. In dropping all charges against Zimmerman, the jury concluded that Trayvon had thrown the first punch in response to Zimmerman's threatening behavior, and therefore Zimmerman was justified in shooting him in self-defense.

If only it could be said that a more perverse and twisted miscarriage of justice by our legal system was hard to find. Agonizingly, it is not. For millions of people this tragic affair was never simply about a confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin. It was the United States justice system that was on trial under charges of institutional racism -- and it has proven itself guilty.

To begin to appreciate the significance of this, some context is necessary. A study by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, entitled "Operation Ghetto Storm" revealed:

"In July 2012, in the tradition of 'On Lynching' by Ida B. Wells-Burnet and 'We Charge Genocide' by William L. Patterson, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement released a critical report that exposed the fact that in the first six months of the year a Black man, woman, or child was summarily executed by the police, and a smaller number of security guards and self-appointed vigilantes, Every 36 Hours! But the July 2012 report did not tell the whole story. Further investigation revealed a more accurate and gruesome number of extrajudicial killings during the first six months of the year. And true to form, the assault on Black life stayed consistent for the last six months of the year, resulting in the extrajudicial killing of at least 313 Black people in 2012, or one every 28 Hours!"

These killings, without pretext or legal consequences, demonstrate that the stormy reactions following Trayvon's murder and Zimmerman's initial release without charges weren't the result of an outrageous break from how the U.S. justice system operates. Rather, it was because the tragedy was yet another example of this system's outrageous racist norm.

During the initial wave of mass protests against Trayvon Martin's murder in 2012, many chanted and carried signs saying, "I am Trayvon Martin." For black participants this was more than an expression of solidarity. It was an acknowledgement of the racist reality that they too could easily meet a similar fate to Trayvon's — that is, becoming a victim of state sanctioned murder.

Authorities initially expected Zimmerman's murder of Trayvon to disappear from the radar as he walked free. That is the normal script for how such incidents play out. However, the recording of Zimmerman's 911 call was too dramatic for the press to let slip away.

The tape and Zimmerman's release without charge sparked a national wave of protests that included the peaceful shutdown of the Sanford Police Department for five hours. And the impact of the public's reaction brought results. Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee was forced to resign. The Federal Justice Department's Civil Rights Division opened an investigation to the killing.

If it were not for the mass reaction, Zimmerman never would have been put on trial. With 313 black people killed by police, some security guards, and self-appointed vigilantes in 2012 without legal consequence, the wave of protest following Trayvon's killing is the main factor explaining why events here took a different turn.

Those in power were forced to change their tactics in order to contain popular revolt. The importance of this cannot be overestimated despite the trial's outcome. What the trial revealed is that the system of racial oppression in this country is not all-powerful. It can be challenged and ultimately overturned. It also revealed that what is required to move this process forward is a campaign of mass organizing — with a political perspective that demonstrates a clear path for judicial change if the grassroots can be mobilized to confront our oppressors.

We need an ongoing mass civil rights movement with the power to pull out racism from the political and economic foundations of the U.S. by its roots. That power can only be built by unifying the vast majority against an economic elite which controls the political system and profits from blacks' oppression. The mass protests that will erupt in response to Zimmerman's acquittal can act as a springboard for such a movement, as long as participants understand the need to commit themselves to the long-haul struggle.

The NAACP is urging Attorney General Eric Holder to open up a civil rights case against Zimmerman. By itself, this is an impotent plea. However, combined with a sustained campaign of mass actions — not only for justice for Trayvon, but as a challenge to the racist norm of the U.S. legal system — this approach may bear fruit.

The only certainty is that we cannot sit at home and let the courts work through their process. We must mobilize and organize to assert popular power independent of the courts and corporate Democrat and Republican parties if we are to create a world where Trayvon, and the millions he has come to represent, can thrive without fear.

Mark Vorpahl is a union steward, social justice activist and a writer for Workers Action and Occupy.com. He can be reached at Portland@workerscompass.org.

 
 

Add new comment

Sign Up

Article Tabs

This week, the ice is melting, sea levels are rising and science denying psychopaths are steering the canoe.

Noam Chomsky, Donald Trump, demagogue, Republican Party control, climate catastrophe, American militarism, fascism

Some years ago, the public intellectual warned that the U.S. was ripe for the rise of an authoritarian figure. Now he describes the threat Trump poses to the planet.

Dakota Access Pipeline, Standing Rock, Alex Garland, North Dakota, Standing Rock Sioux tribe, Standing Rock protests

Here are some of the faces from Standing Rock, in their own words.

Somali-Americans, Somali businesses, Abdul Razak Artan, Ohio State attacks, Somali activism

The Somali-American community was bashed last week after Abdul Razak Artan, a member of Ohio's large and growing Somali community, took part in a car-ramming attack and massive stabbing at the school that left 13 injured.

Dakota Access Pipeline, Standing Rock Sioux tribe, Standing Rock protests, DAPL

"We thank the tribal youth who initiated this movement. We thank the millions of people around the globe who expressed support for our cause. We thank the thousands of people who came to the camps to support us."

standing rock, oceti sakowin, lakota, cheyenne, sioux, north dakota, NoDAPL, oil pipeline, Army Corps of Engineers, wiyaka eagleman, eviction notice, veterans for standing rock, lake oahe, oahe dam, governor jack dalrymple, blockades, sophia wilansky, rio

This week, in a special episode, we dig into the latest news from Standing Rock.

Posted 6 days 21 hours ago
Dakota Access Pipeline, #NoDAPL, Standing Rock Sioux tribe, Standing Rock protests, Fort Laramie Treaty, Barack Obama, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Missouri River

Snow is slowing covering the encampment at Standing Rock, and despite an "emergency evacuation order" issued this week by North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters aren't leaving.

Posted 5 days 20 hours ago
Austrian elections, populist movemens, rightwing populism, anti-Europe sentiment, Brexit, Donald Trump, Freedom Party, xenophobia

Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party has a shot to win the presidency and become Austria's first right-wing head of state since the end of World War II.

Posted 4 days 21 hours ago
Dakota Access Pipeline, Standing Rock, Alex Garland, Bakken pipeline, North Dakota

Here are some of the faces from Standing Rock, in their own words.

Posted 3 days 19 hours ago
Somali-Americans, Somali businesses, Abdul Razak Artan, Ohio State attacks, Somali activism

The Somali-American community was bashed last week after Abdul Razak Artan, a member of Ohio's large and growing Somali community, took part in a car-ramming attack and massive stabbing at the school that left 13 injured.

Posted 1 day 2 hours ago
Fight for $15, living wage, minimum wage hikes, Service Employees International Union, protest arrests, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, overtime pay

Scores of demonstrators were arrested on Tuesday as U.S. fast-food and airport workers led nationwide protests for higher pay and union rights in their first major action since Donald Trump was elected president.

standing rock, oceti sakowin, lakota, cheyenne, sioux, north dakota, NoDAPL, oil pipeline, Army Corps of Engineers, wiyaka eagleman, eviction notice, veterans for standing rock, lake oahe, oahe dam, governor jack dalrymple, blockades, sophia wilansky, rio

This week, in a special episode, we dig into the latest news from Standing Rock.

Dakota Access Pipeline, Standing Rock, Alex Garland, Bakken pipeline, North Dakota

Here are some of the faces from Standing Rock, in their own words.

Matteo Renzi, 5 Star Movement, Italian populists, anti-EU vote

Matteo Renzi resigned Sunday night after suffering a crushing defeat in a referendum on constitutional reform – signaling a fresh populist blow for the E.U.

Austrian elections, populist movemens, rightwing populism, anti-Europe sentiment, Brexit, Donald Trump, Freedom Party, xenophobia

Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party has a shot to win the presidency and become Austria's first right-wing head of state since the end of World War II.