August 13 – Volume 14, #8
“The Bullet, Not the Ballot”
“What’s wrong with motherfuckers, when will they ever learn/Keep playin’ with that fire and that ass is gettin’ burned/Fuckin’ with semi-autos one foot is in the grave/ We givin’ all of y’all somethin’ to be afraid of” –Mobb Deep, Burn-
Like many things in modern pop culture, the “stop snitchin” motto that was all the rage on T-shirts, DVD’s and in minstrel rap songs a few years back was taken a bit too far. To the casual observer “stop snitchin” didn’t represent loyalty and honor, but rather served as justification for untold degrees of communal neglect and a total lack of personal accountability for the crime that is making our black communities into warzones all across the nation. But to only look at the surface of this creed would obscure a lot. What that campaign reflected is a long, historical mistrust of all of America’s institutions, and the criminal justice system in particular.
Only chattel slavery itself is responsible for the ruin of more black lives than America’s criminal justice system. As O.J. and Osama can attest, white America has been known to hold a grudge or two. So I have little doubt that they would quickly appropriate into their cultural world view an antagonistic attitude toward some of the nation’s most beloved institutions had they been subjected to the generations of trumped-up charges, police beatings and killings, state-sponsored executions, voter disenfranchisement, legal double standards and economic deprivation that black people have experienced in America up to this very moment.
We don’t have to look to some distant yesteryear to see these grievances. There are people in our community who remember well the families of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers failing to receive proper justice. As a teenager I watched Rodney King get beaten within an inch of his life like the rest of America, but somehow the all-white jury in the original trial found this assault totally appropriate. I am from a state where the governor had to reluctantly end the death penalty because the Chicago chief of police had beaten so many men with such severity that, by the dozens, they’d rather confess to murders that would falsely send them to death row rather than have the beatings continue. Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Eleanor Bumpurs, and Patrick Dorismand are just some of the black people that have made major headlines after their deaths at the hands of the same racist ass cops who would be called heroes on 9/11.
“Stop Snitchin” might have been over the top, but black folks have more than good reason to approach the criminal justice system with extreme skepticism. On Sunday, July 14, 2013 we got one more reason when George Zimmerman was found not guilty for the cowardly murder of 17-year-old, Skittle-toting Trayvon Martin.
I was aware that there was talk, both before and after the verdict, of calm and urging black folks not to riot. I understand this caution.
Although most of the business owners in the black community don’t look like the people who live there, ultimately it has been the resident-patrons that have had the hardest time rebounding from the after-effects of Watts, Newark and Chicago. The Asian and Arab business owners just get reimbursed from white-owned insurance companies and use the riots as one more excuse to economically isolate the ghetto from the rest of the city. And it would have been cruel irony indeed for urban riots and subsequent looting to be responsible for sending scores of black men and women to jail on a day when George Zimmerman escaped such a fate. Throwing bricks into windows and stealing I-Phones would have felt good for a little while. It would have felt real good. But after the dust settled and the smoke cleared, it wouldn’t have solved anything. Trayvon Martin would have still been dead and George Zimmerman’s pussy ass would still be free.
That being said, it would be quite un-American for the black community to remove violence as an option in response to the systemic pathology of white supremacy that took Trayvon Martin from us the way that Medgar Evers, Martin King, Emmitt Till and thousands of unnamed others have been in generations before.
Word to Sun Tsu, to eliminate violence against a system that has practiced both literal and psychological violence against black people since our arrival in North America would be downright impractical.
Don’t let liberal white pundits and members of the bourgeois negro intelligencia tell you any different. The stance taken here is not the position of some emotional militant. Quite the contrary. In the days since the verdict I have deliberately shut myself off from most of the commentary surrounding this case both in social media and in the world of journalism. I am quite clear and say this not with malice in my heart, but just as a rational member of a community that had its collective hearts broken that Sunday morning. And I say this as someone who doesn’t feel that the white power establishment in this country has any interest whatsoever in keeping people like me protected.
Why shouldn’t we get violent in the face of such threats? After all, working through the system didn’t solve anything either. And the outrage and downright despair that was felt in the black community that Sunday morning was not just rooted in one mischaracterization of justice, but fits in with a larger pattern of state-sanctioned violence against black people in this country.
Black people have been met with violence since our introduction to these shores. We were brought here violently. Our mothers were subjected to violent rapes. Our families were broken apart, sometimes with children physically being ripped from their mother’s arms.
But that was in the past we all thought. After all, Obama is president. And Oprah is beloved by white America. And look at how well Jay Z and Rick Rubin get along. And make no mistake, a lot of progress has been made racially in America. I don’t want to totally shit on how far we have come. But I’m also not going to sit back and let America continue to suck its own dick for its overstated commitment to equality while black blood continues to spill in the street.
When racial progress is talked about historically we often imagine a society that self-corrected over time as white America woke up one morning and finally wanted to behave like decent human beings and allow black people modest gains such as being able to vote and sit where they wanted to in public transit.
It was just ignorance that held people back and once people became more enlightened to just how debilitating white supremacy was, we eliminated racism almost overnight. But white boys like Branch Rickey and John F. Kennedy are no heroes. This country has had to be forced to do the right thing at every turn, kicking and screaming.
If we want to prevent the next Trayvon from being publicly lynched after he was physically taken from us, the black community and its allies will have to force America once more.
To be sure, just as violence should not be removed as an option, peaceful democratic measures should not be either. We should work in mass to eradicate ridiculous legislation such as the Stand Your Ground Law, and stage economic boycotts in the state of Florida. I’m even prepared to make a major sacrifice and forego South Beach. I know black people are frustrated by the results of the trial and we should be. But white conservatives have shown that the legal system has been, in some ways, even more effective in maintaining white supremacy than overt displays of racism. By using the law, white supremacists get to both keep their feet on black folks necks and avoid being explicitly labeled as racists. So we should make note of their example and continue to be proactive on the political front, particularly as the nation darkens demographically over the next couple of generations. But maybe it’s time that we model other actions of those who want to maintain the white power structure.
Much has been made this past year about another unique aspect of American democracy, namely the right to bear arms.
At the core of this incessant need for so many white folks to cling to their guns is the same thing that’s rooted in bullshit laws like Stand Your Ground. It’s the same thing that compelled the jury to rule that George Zimmerman had no choice but to lethally defend himself from a 17-year old kid while he possessed the knowledge that the police were just minutes away from rescuing him from the embarrassing ass-whooping he was in the midst of receiving. All of this is because black men like Trayvon -black men like me- are viewed as a threat that’s scarier than Osama Bin Laden and the Bogeyman put together.
Although descendants of slaves like myself and Trayvon have been in North America far longer than most Europeans who immigrated to the States willfully, we continue to be viewed as dangerous outsiders. As people who don’t fully belong. As people who aren’t afforded the same rights as “normal” Americans.
Considering the historic proportionality of violence between blacks and whites in America and throughout the world, that they would be so scared of us is downright laughable. Since we have to deal with the consequences of the irrational, infantile fear created by white supremacy no matter what we seem to do, maybe it’s time that we give America something to really be afraid of.
If Trayvon Benjamin Martin’s family couldn’t get justice in a case that seemed as open and shut as you can get; a case where the whole world was paying attention, then what hope is there for the rest of us?
We can follow President Obama’s timid call to respect the system by not responding violently in such instances, but it just is not sound to allow for this kind of violence to go on. It is high time for black people to organize militias in their own communities.
Calm down scary white people and bougie niggas, I’m not advocating that cats go into Beverly Hills and the Gold Coast brandishing weapons. Not yet anyway.
What I am advocating is something similar to the original goals of the Bloods. Of the Gangster Disciples. Of La Cosa Nostra. Of the Irish mobs.
While each of these aforementioned organizations have drifted far from their original framework, initially they set out to protect their ethnic communities from racist powers that conspired against them. Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, public officials made no pretense that they would work in your best interests. The Irish, Italian and Polish minority were literally on their own before they were able to become white and blend into the system. These white ethnics integrated into civil society and became politicians, police officers, teachers, dentists and clergymen. But as Martin Scorsese depicts of the Irish in Gangs of New York, they also were more than willing to crack a few heads if they felt physically threatened in their communities.
With gun laws relaxed across the nation allowing common citizens to stand their ground when they feel threatened, it is high time that black people mobilize to form militias to ensure our protection against physical threats – both foreign and domestic.
There have been some good white people in history that have worked towards the cause of making black people full citizens in a nation that they helped to build with their bare hands. Help that is sincere, and that is given on terms dictated by our community, is welcomed. But make no mistake, the only help that we can count on absolutely is from one another. We are on our own. Shit, most of these white folks are dumb enough to still vote Republican and ain’t got good enough sense to help their damn selves anymore. How the fuck they gonna help us?
The lack of empathy for the black experience that was on full display before, during and after the Zimmerman trial isn’t fully malicious. It’s malicious mind you. Just not fully.
White people have been trained to hate, fear and despise black people. Shit, though I’m loathe to admit it, in my experience no one hates, fears and despises black people more than black people.
So we can’t count on folks of any hue who have been subconsciously reared on white supremacy to protect our children. We should demand this of the American power structure for certain. Loudly and frequently. But we would be downright foolish to count on this with all that we have seen in our history on these shores.
We can’t be caught with our guard down again. The next time a George Zimmerman gets any ideas, he should be shot in his face. Word up.
While it is true that a black man is at a huge disadvantage in the criminal justice system. At least you have a chance of running into six people as stupid as the jurors who adjudicated this case. Even if George Zimmerman had been rightfully imprisoned he still would have had his life. Even that wouldn’t have given Trayvon back his.
I feel strongly that it was a Eurocentric world view of black people, informed by 500 years of white supremacy, that influenced Zimmerman’s initial impression of Trayvon Martin as he was walking home minding his own business. This mentality was also prevalent in the Sanford Police Department’s decision not to press charges against Zimmerman, something I’d have a hard time imagining if Zimmerman were black and not a Latin trying to pose as a Gringo. I think this same strain of white supremacy informed the jury’s decision to overstate the threat that was posed to Zimmerman, just as it caused the jury’s foreman to characterize the peaceful protests that forced the trial as riots. If black people gathering peacefully is a riot, then what the fuck would this dumb bitch call all the anti-Obama rallies that black people have endured over the last six years where uneducated, welfare dependent rednecks show up with loaded guns?
But putting race aside, this trial revealed that the criminal justice system as it is currently constituted, like many of our systems (education, health, financial….) is not equipped to work for much of anyone, regardless of their race. It works least of all for racial minorities and others who don’t have powerful forces on their side.
A strong argument can be made that the prosecution did not do a sufficient job in the case. I am not a litigator myself so I can’t really speak to that one way or the other. That being said, you didn’t need fucking Matlock or Perry Mason to help someone draw a conclusion of what happened on that February night in 2012 when Trayvon lost his life. Rather than focus on what was omitted from the proceedings, consider these facts that were made available to the jury. The jury knew that Trayvon Martin was unarmed. They knew that Zimmerman was armed when he disobeyed a police order to return to his home. The jury saw Zimmerman tell the police on camera the following day that the gun was in the small of his back, only to have his attorneys and close friends say time and again in court that it was just below his stomach. Other inconsistencies include Zimmerman telling the police a street name on video that he later used in court as an excuse to confront Trayvon, saying he was only there to correctly identify the street name. The jury heard Zimmerman’s numerous police calls that focused almost exclusively on black people and even involved the use of some racial slurs. The jury was fully cognizant of the fact that Zimmerman was a minor expert on law enforcement, arming him with the legal rationale and language in which to skillfully craft a plausible defense. There are many, many, many black men in this country who are spending the night in prison tonight based on far flimsier evidence than was brought to bear against George Zimmerman.
One of the people who was chosen to arbitrate over whether or not the Martin family would receive the justice they were due was an individual who said that they didn’t look at the news or read newspapers. If the only criteria for being responsible for such an important decision is being clueless then there are millions of mindless teenagers out here who don’t even know who the vice president of the United States is who can easily qualify. Being ignorant and uninformed is nothing to be honored, but the “greatest criminal justice system in the world” deemed this sufficient in allowing this woman on the jury.
Such actions suggest that the only way to eliminate bias is to be divorced from facts. But actually the best way to eliminate bias is to be as informed as possible. While many white people may think that we black folks overstate racial profiling and the like, to have someone who is totally oblivious to its existence preside over a case that was so informed by racial profiling is unimaginable. This is like someone serving on a jury for a hate crime involving a Jew and an Arab, and this juror has absolutely no historical knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The direct facts of the case should absolutely be most important, but the larger social context matters as well. Nowhere else in our system are such important decisions left to people devoid of even the most fundamental expertise.
Too often winning a case is less about the facts and far, far more about wining the jury selection. That’s because we can predict how people will view certain things by knowing what color they are, how much money they make, and what religion they are. It is shameful that in 2013 people in America seem so incapable of looking beyond their own limited experience that they can’t base decisions off anything else.
But this shouldn’t be.
When those kids got killed in Sandy Hook, I didn’t need to be white to empathize with them, nor did I need to be a parent. Or someone who had lost someone in my family to gun violence.
All I needed to do was be human. It is always wrong for someone to lose their lives, but especially when they are not only not doing anything wrong, but are actually in the places they’re supposed to be. If our children can’t feel safe at school, if they can’t feel safe walking from a store to their parents’ suburban home, then where can they be safe?
I’ve long felt that the best way to protect ourselves as individuals is to make sure that the village is protected. But village people we are not here in America. We remain tribal in spite of all our pretense and masquerades. The veil that Du Bois wrote about well over a century ago remains as rigid as ever in our society. Black people have done all they can to penetrate this veil in order to gain basic civility, acceptance and even love. We have quite foolishly tripped all over ourselves in trying to adopt the American Dream lifestyle. We’ve done unthinkable things to our hair, skin and bodies to conform to a European standard of beauty. We have mastered our oppressor’s language, letters and laws. We have cursed our Gods in favor of those who were used to justify our bondage. We have given our lives by the millions in wars abroad, only to be treated with contempt back home. And yet me, my father, my brother, my uncle, my sister, my aunt, my best friend, Barack Obama and Trayvon Martin are routinely treated with fear and suspicion when we ain’t doing shit but trying to live our lives. We live with this fear when we are followed in stores, followed on highways, and now, even followed on sidewalks.
But the jury foreman never experienced that fear. And nobody she knows, or anybody they know, have experienced it. But most all, even the most fair-minded white person, has felt the irrational fear that paralyzed George Zimmerman’s common sense that night in February. And in a country that is being dumbed down on every level, it takes no effort to be oblivious to the experiences of those who are different than you even if you don’t make a deliberate attempt to avoid current events like the jury foreman proudly proclaimed.
I don’t know if giving every black man, woman and child a gun to protect us from future “creepy-looking” George Zimmermans is enough to keep us safe. But I know exactly where black men like myself stand in the eyes of this system. That’s the same place that we always have. In its crosshairs.
For years, I have found positively comical the notion that America is post-racial and that Barack Obama represents some racial breakthrough. The truth is that the Chi Town homie got roughly the same percentage of the white vote as other Democrats have received in recent elections. The first black man is president due in large part because people of color were determined to put him there. We did this in spite of herculean efforts to try and restrict minority voting that included making up slick new rules and imposing extended waits that lasted several hours in some precincts. But black folks were determined to see this process through by any means necessary.
It is high time that black folks return to this philosophy of any means necessary outside of the ballot box as well.
Peace and God bless