Trayvon Martin Verdict: Don't Tell Black People Not to "Riot"
A demonstrator holds a sign with the likeness of Trayvon Martin while protesting in front of the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center where a jury is deliberating in the trial of George Zimmerman on July 13, 2013 in Sanford, Florida.
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Yesterday, six women in the state of Florida, five of them white, made clear that the inherent value of Black life and Black personhood is legally indefensible.
The legal sanctioning of George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin gives veracity to an argument that Chief Justice Roger B. Taney made in 1857: A Black person has “no rights which a white man is bound to respect.”
No, George Zimmerman is not white. But his assumptions about Black men are rooted in the foundational assumptions of white supremacy and his treatment by the justice system have conferred upon him privileges usually reserved for white men. The malleability of white supremacy for non-Black bodies says something about the singular power and threat of the Black body in this kind of racialized system.
Though much of the mainstream media who have covered this case have convinced themselves that race did not play a role in this trial, a Black kid is dead because being young, Black, and male, and wearing a hoodie in the rain is apparently a crime punishable by death.
When I think of the jury in this case, five of them white women, I am convinced that at a strictly human level, this case came down to whether those white women could actually see Trayvon Martin as somebody’s child, or whether they saw him according to the dictates of Black male criminality.
(I’m fairly sure that Pauli Murray, the famed African-American civil rights attorney and feminist activist who successfully dismantled the all white, all-male jury system in the case of White v. Crook (1966), a decision which made an all female jury possible, is somewhere turning over in her grave.)
Now that we have a verdict, it is clear that they didn’t see a young man who could be their own child, because white women’s sons’ aren’t stalked, profiled, and deemed unworthy of being in middle class neighborhoods. But young Black male criminals are exactly the kind of people that plague the white imagination and spur white flight, gated communities, and heavy policing.
Some will say that I shouldn’t pick on the jurors. They were only working with the evidence they were given. I say there’s enough blame to go around. Certainly the prosecution didn’t do Trayvon any favors.
All these things considered, the verdict is frankly pretty predictable. So, too, then is Black rage.
Unabashed, unchecked white supremacy will always lead to unabashed, unchecked Black rage. Call it the laws of physics.
My rage is made all the more sure by those who are “encouraging” Black people not to “riot.” They urge us to follow and respect the rule of law.
Because of course, it is Black people who need to be reminded of the rules.
Even though it is we who peacefully assembled by the thousands all over the country and marched in order to turn the wheels of due process. And it is we who waited patiently for 15 months for this case to be brought to trial. And it is we who have yet again been played for fools as we waited fervently for justice to be done.
On the other hand, George Zimmerman deputized himself, sought a confrontation, and then became judge, jury, and executioner for a kid who committed no crimes.
To ask Black people to respect the rule of law is an exercise in missing the point, not to mention an insult.
Almost immediately upon hearing the verdict, I was reminded of Ida B. Wells, who penned these words in an 1892 pamphlet entitled Southern Horrors several months after three of her friends were lynched with impunity in Memphis: