Monday, July 15, 2013

Let's Honor Trayvon Martin's Memory

Peaceful, multiracial, multi-generational protests have sprung up all over the country in the wake of George Zimmerman's acquittal on all charges for killing Trayvon Martin. The one above took place Sunday in Poughkeepsie. On Wednesday, people will gather in Kingston outside the Ulster County Court House at 285 Wall Street at 5:30PM and our New Paltz Women in Black vigil this Saturday, 12:30-1:30 in front of the Elting Library, will be dedicated to demanding change in Trayvon's memory. Also, just learned there will be another rally at Mansion Square Park in Pok, this Saturday at noon. Sorry it conflicts with our vigil but hope many turn out for it.

I personally feel I do not have all the facts to condemn the jurors in this trial. I think attorney Lisa Bloom is correct when she says the prosecution's case diverged from the evidence (ie letting the defense repeatedly say Zimmerman's gun was on his side when it was hidden behind layers of clothes behind him) and they failed to present an alternate theory of what happened that night. Also, why didn't they bring up the fact that Zimmerman had made over 40 calls to the police to report "suspicious" behavior and every single time he was targeting an African American man? This was a case about race and the prosecution's claim it was not, was baffling. Ms Bloom did say that she felt the evidence, if properly presented, could have led to a guilty verdict.

So I think the system, from the shoddy police work, to a less than stellar case by the prosecution failed Trayvon. To declare that these jurors are all racists would be as bad as Zimmerman seeing all black men as "up to no good."
(Update- If more talk out like the juror B37- who made some shocking admissions- ie she thinks Trayvon "played a huge role in his own death" and that Zimmerman was "egged on" by the 911 operator to follow Trayvon-  there may be enough information to come to a different conclusion.)

Our Broken Justice System 
But all of this is NOT to say that we live in a post-racial society. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. Our justice system fails black people every single day.

Just compare the Zimmerman case to what happened last year in Florida to a black woman named Marissa Alexander. She was given a 20 year sentence for firing warning shots into a wall (no one was even hurt) to defend herself against her abuser husband. The judge said that he could not lessen the sentence, even though her husband had a record of abuse and Marissa had no record at all. Her 11 year old daughter said, "I really was crying in there. I didn't want to cry in court, but I just really feel hurt. I don't think this should have been happening." Please sign the petition to right this travesty and free Marissa.

That is just one case, but injustice to people of color happens everyday in our criminal justice system, in the school to prison pipeline (10 year olds have been put in jail for minor offenses) in the horrendous conditions in our prisons, including decades of solitary confinement and in "stop and frisk" that targets African American young men nearly 90% of the time.

Nearly one million of the 2.3million mass incarcerated in the US are people of color. They are jailed six times the rate of whites. If current trends continue, one in three black males can expect prison time in his lifetime. Five times as many whites use drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites. Sentences are harsher for people of color. They can expect to spend 58.7 months for nonviolent drug offenses, while whites serve 61.7 months for violent offenses. Read Michelle Alexander's the New Jim Crow for an eye and heart opening look at the racial caste system in our country that uses mass incarceration as the new means of disenfranchising people of color.

In Trayvon's name and to honor his memory, we must demand change.

"Stand Your Ground" a Recipe for More Senseless Bloodshed

Although Zimmerman did not use the "Stand Your Ground"law in his defense, I think it is clear that it emboldened him and it is the reason he was not arrested for over 40 days after the killing. * Just in- the jurors used Stand Your Ground to come to their verdict- The jury instructions said  Zimmerman was entitled to "stand his ground" with "no duty to retreat."

A report last year, showed that in Florida one third of the 200 Stand Your Ground cases involved the defendant initiating the fight, sometimes even shooting someone in the back- yet they still were not charged with any crime. 73% of those who killed a black person were able to walk away scot-free. 59% who killed white people were.

Critics said this law would lead to more racially motivated killings, promote deadly escalations in arguments and increase violent vigilantism. All have proven true.

Yesterday, Michael Bloomberg called for an end to "Stand Your Ground" laws saying "Such laws -- drafted by gun lobby extremists in Washington -- encourage deadly confrontations by enabling people to shoot first and argue 'justifiable homicide' later."

Say enough is enough, no more needless killings. Add your name to demand an end to "Stand Your Ground".

The Justice Dept may bring federal, criminal civil rights charges against George Zimmerman. Sign the letter to Attorney General Eric Holder to demand an investigation. 450,000 have done so already! This has been done successfully in other cases and a thorough investigation could reveal new evidence.

I wrote about Trayvon last year comparing him to Emmett Till, a young black man who was brutally murdered for whistling at a white woman in 1955. I mentioned that most activists who fought against Jim Crow had one thing in common- they had all seen the picture of Emmett's mutilated body as his mother wanted the world to see what they had done to her baby.

Something large and important must also come out of Trayvon's murder: an end to "Stand Your Ground", an end to racial profiling, common sense gun reform, a national dialogue about the very real problem of racial inequity in our country and our collective determination to make the changes needed to ensure this will never happen again and that justice can be restored for all.