Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Trayvon Martin, From Lament to Rallying Cry: "Time Is Now to Commit to the Revolutionary Project of Living Our Lives Out Loud"

Mychal Denzel Smith sees hope amidst the darkness of a society and legal system that are capable of the following:

George Zimmerman was prosecuted, yes, but he was never really on trial. Trayvon Martin’s lifeless body was put on trial for having the audacity to exist and be black. Zimmerman started that the night he killed Trayvon, profiling the lanky teen for being “up to no good” and not belonging in his gated community—when he had no information to go on besides the fact Trayvon was walking in the rain. During the trial, defense attorneys Mark O’Mara and Don West trotted out every racist stereotype attached to black boys throughout history, suggesting that Trayvon used supernatural size, strength and speed to beat Zimmerman. To my disgust, O’Mara literally invoked the same justification for killing Trayvon as was used to justify lynchings. He called to the witness stand Olivia Bertalan, one of Zimmerman’s former neighbors, who told the story of her home being burglarized by two young African-American boys while she and her children feared for their lives. It was terrifying indeed, and it had absolutely no connection to the case at hand. But O’Mara presented the jury with the “perfect victim,” which Trayvon could never be: a white woman living in fear of black criminals. Zimmerman had offered to help her the night her home was robbed. Implicit in the defense’s closing argument: he was also protecting her the night he killed Trayvon Martin.

As Jessica Valenti points out, the not too thinly veiled subtext of O'Mara's defense was that Zimmerman was protecting white womanhood against always-threatening black manhood--a subtext that runs powerfully through the American psyche and has been used again and again to justify even the grossest acts of repressive violence against black men when it has served the needs of some groups in society to trot out the black-men-threatening-white-women trope. 

As Valenti also notes, look at how the juror who spoke to Anderson Cooper recently, B37, expressed her identification with "George"--she called Zimmerman repeatedly by his first name, going so far as to say that "George said" when Zimmerman did not even take the stand--and how she implicitly blamed Trayvon Martin for his own death. Trayvon was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

These things happen.

White women deserve protection. Black men are known predators. 

Things happen. Poor George Zimmerman! As a poster informed me here yesterday, it's his life that's now over. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time!

When all he was doing was his duty to his neighborhood, to families--to us--he had the colossal misfortune to encounter a threatening-looking black teenager in a hoodie and, as B37 lamented (for George's sake), things then got out of hand. 

In a moment, George's life is over and done with.

And now, we're all left with the challenge of picking up the pieces, and as I say, Mychal Denzel Smith finds hope in what's happening in the aftermath of the trial--and this feeds my own faltering hope. Smith finds hope in the possibility of solidarity between all of those living on the margins of society, who are treated as not-us in a society that can obscenely invert a story about the death of an unarmed teenaged boy heading to a store in the rain to buy snacks so that this story becomes one about the pretend-death of the armed, self-appointed vigilante who profiles, stalks, and shoots that teenager in cold blood, and who pays no price for doing so. Because white women deserve protection from black men.

Smith writes,

For those of us left among the marginalized and oppression, be they black boys buying Skittles in Florida; women raising their voices against virulent anti-abortion measures in Texas, Ohio or North Carolina; prisoners going hungry in California; innocent men awaiting execution in Georgia; little girls lying asleep in Detroit; or transwomen who defend themselves and end up locked behind bars in Minnesota; the time is now to commit to the revolutionary project of living our lives out loud. Our rage is valuable, whether we anticipate its coming or not.

The graphic: Anthony J. Hayes photo of the rally for Trayvon Martin in Times Square following the verdict, from Hayes's Twitter feed.

No comments: