Sunday, July 14, 2013

On Repeat: Breaking the Cycle of Inaction After Trayvon


“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
― Frederick Douglass

 ~Note: This piece was written the day before the verdict came down~

As we speak the George Zimmerman/ Trayvon Martin trail is wrapping up. We will soon hear what the verdict will be and what the fate of Zimmerman will be. I know that many of my people, African/Black people, are praying that Zimmerman be brought to justice, one that seems like a distant echo after now 500 years of not having it. I understand the very deep and emotional need for this case to be won but I feel there are other things that need attention also. The most important of which is: What will we do after the trial? The most talked about actions is sadly a riot. I do hope that if a riot does break out that we don’t do what we did in the past and simply burn and pillage our own communities. What I am really interested is in how we will react to the truth that whether he is convicted or not that tomorrow morning or night a cop will probably abuse, harass, or kill another youth of color.

Broader than just another death, whether Zimmerman is convicted or not the conditions that created Zimmerman, his mindset, and the environment that allowed him to kill Trayvon will be still be firmly intact. What really killed Trayvon was the structure of racism that includes the police, the courts, government, and the racist ideology of white supremacy/ black inferiority that backed Zimmerman when he decided to pursue Trayvon. That structure and system is working at 110% right now in America to the point that Trayvon’s murder isn’t even especially unusual. Last year when he was killed, he was joined by at least 313 other black people who were victims of racist police or vigilante violence. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement has complied a report, which you can get here, that details each of these cases. Combine those with the equally numerous murders of other people of color and you will begin to paint a particularly gruesome picture.
Going back to my question of what we will do there is already a few patterns that black people have employed in these situations. They are:
  1. Doing nothing and trusting the system to change on its own
  2. Organizing to reform the justice system
  3. Rioting
Most often we do nothing (collectively I mean) to counter the violence of the system. Many of us feel powerless and thus don’t feel like anything can be done. History has shown us however that there is something we can always do. More rarely we organize ourselves and seek to reform the system so that it protects us from future harm. The Civil Rights Movement is the gold standard for reform politics and achieved many pieces of legislation. The problem with this strategy is that it simply does not work. Even with all the many reforms we have implemented since the end of slavery and then after the end of Jim Crow we are actually worse off than we were before the reforms. This is not to say that the reforms were bad in of themselves but that reform fundamentally isn’t a solution. Then there is rioting. We rioted in 92 after Rodney King. We rioted when King was killed. We riot and we burn our communities and others and then….nothing changes.
The reason why I mention the above is that we as black people are caught in this repeating song of doing the same things when our people are harmed, over and over again, with no results to show for it. We must eventually see that keeping our heads down and mouths shut, working within the system, or lashing out and burning anything near us are not answers to this problem. Any solution must offer an immediate end to the physical violence being inflicted upon our people as well as build our political power to be able to take ground back from the police and other violent institutions.
What I am arguing for is that we start to have a real conversation about community self-defense and community policing. The Black Panther Party and other groups have attempted to do both of these things in the past but were buffeted by the system due to being too weak. Without mass participation and organization we will suffer the same fate as the Panthers. There however are examples of new successful initiatives being organized by the oppressed people of this nation. We must follow their example and use the anger and resentment of Trayvon’s unjust murder to begin to strike back at the system that strikes us repeatedly. If we don’t, all that will come out of this trial is the continued extermination of young people of color in America.

(originally published in

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