Violence in the Streets Won’t Help

Wreaking havoc in the streets in the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal is not wise, smart or needed.

It’s OK to be angry; it’s expected. But engaging in violence on the streets is counter-productive, to those who engage in it and to those who are affected by it.

I remember when, in the height of the Civil Rights Movement, riots broke out all over the country. I lived in Detroit. The riots began after police arrested a group of people who were in an after-hours club, celebrating the return of some men from Vietnam. Police apparently arrested everyone in the club. (http://www.67riots.rutgers.edu/d_events.htm) After the police left with those who had been arrested, a couple of people, angry because the club was closed and they now no longer had someplace to go, broke a window at a clothing store which was next to the club. The riot erupted from there and lasted for 5 days. At the end of the riot, 43 people were dead, and close to 1200 were injured and nearly 7000 had been arrested.

The riot began on Clairmount Avenue. Clairmount was clearly in the black section of the city, and I knew the area well. My pediatrician’s office was blocks from there, on Clairemount and Dexter Avenue. What bothered me is that the rioters were angry but were taking their anger out on black folks! It was black business that was affected most. Black neighborhoods were devastated. After the riots were over, my parents took all of us (5 children) into the “war zone,” my father called it. The neighborhood was gone. Everything we had grown up seeing was gone, burned to the ground. It was as though war planes had come and dropped bombs.

It was counter productive then and it’s counter productive now.  What we need, when there is injustice or something we perceive as being unjust, is strategy so that we can “speak truth to power.”   We know that many youth in the streets are brilliant, even if their education has not been good. This is a time where their brilliance could be used to make a difference in the communities in which there is so much injustice. We need to figure out a way to stop black-on-black crime. Although the comments of Robert Zimmerman, George Zimmerman’s brother, sounded arrogant to me, I hated it that he could and did mention that scores of black youth are shot on a daily basis and nobody is ever arrested! That is a sad fact and it is up to us to change it. Anger is not a bad thing. It shouldn’t be suppressed, because suppressed anger converts into depression …We don’t need communities with any more depressed people …but we do need change and the anger that is “out there” now because of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin can be used to bring some real change in the lives of too many kids. I don’t care what the politicians say; there is a need for gun control in this nation, and there is a bigger need for gun control in black, brown and poor communities…and that’s only PART of the work we need to do.

On Sunday, the day after the Zimmerman verdict, I sat in a church service with a predominantly white membership. The occasion was celebration of Freedom Schools, an amazing program begun by Ella Baker in 1974 and taken up by Marian Wright Edelman, head of the Children’s Defense Fund.  The CDF Freedom Schools program is a six-week program which takes kids in, infuses them with a love of  and for themselves, uses college kids to teach them not only to read but to love to learn. Children come in with heads down, often, because of what they cannot do and leave with heads up, because they have learned that they can do more than they ever thought they could.

On Sunday, three of the college kids, teachers to the kids, called “Student Leader Interns,” spoke. All three, two African-American men and one Hispanic woman, spoke about the Zimmerman verdict and how it was a call to action. The Hispanic woman wept as she talked; I wept throughout the service. These three young people called for this to be a time for action, and they are right…not violence in the streets, but action so that those who are children now will have different struggles to deal with, not senseless gun violence in their communities, or laws that work to their detriment.

There is a song the Freedom School students sing, “Something Inside.”  They sing the song every day. The opening words are, “Something inside so strong… I know that I can make it, though you’re doing me wrong, so wrong…” The hope, or my hope, is that those words “take” and become the propulsion for the kids and for those of us who love them …to become the agents for change we need in this world which has not been, let’s face it,  fair when it comes to poor people and people of color.

Get off the streets, guys, and use that anger in a way that is going to produce positive change. Help turn a nation’s mourning …into dancing. It is so needed. Ella Baker said, when she was still alive, “Until the death of black men, black mothers’ sons, is as important as the death of white men, white mothers’  sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest…” We cannot rest, not yet.  We have to value ourselves and our “sons” and the work needed is immense…and it is needed now…

A candid observation …

Zimmerman’s Attorney has Offensive Strategy

 There are several things which are troubling about the George Zimmerman trial, but the most recent include blaming Trayvon Martin for his own death,  and making the case that because a toxicology report showed that he had marijuana in his system that he might have been behaving in such a way that may have forced Zimmerman to act in self-defense.

When Mark  O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, said to Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, that Trayvon may have caused his own death, it reminded me of countless trials where women, raped, were blamed in court, for their assault.  Because of what a woman wore, or how she carried herself, or her sexual history, defenders of rapists were quick to suggest – and, apparently, juries were just as quick to agree – that the woman brought about her attack. It has always been offensive to hear that in rape trials; it is equally as offensive to hear in this second-degree murder trial. Because Martin may have defended himself against a man whom he did not know who was following him, O’Mara is suggesting that Martin was the aggressor. His death, if the reasoning is followed, was his own fault.

It is a totally offensive premise and suggestion.

The second issue is the suggestion that the presence of marijuana in Martin’s blood somehow contributed to behavior which was suspicious. It is a ludicrous argument. If the presence of marijuana in one’s bloodstream made people act “suspicious” to the degree that he or she had to be followed and observed for possible criminal behavior, there would be few students in high schools or college. O’Mara is a brilliant attorney and is doing a good job for his client, but at what cost?

In an article that appeared on U.S. News on NBCNews.com in March, 2012, it was stated that an empty baggie that contained residue of marijuana was found in Martin’s locker at his high school. (http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/03/26/10872124-trayvon-martin-was-suspended-three-times-from-school?lite)  In that article, a family spokesman said that there was no substance found. Toxicology reports, however,  have apparently showed that the teen had marijuana in his system the day he was killed by Zimmerman.

In spite of research that shows that marijuana use does not make one aggressive – or indeed, has little effect on behavior at all, it is clear that O’Mara is going to make the case that young Martin was a “drug user,” lumping him in with those who use drugs that do in fact cause violent and aggressive behavior. It is no secret that young black youth are searched and punished for severely for marijuana possession, but that fact will be glossed over. It is also a fact that many teens use marijuana on a fairly regular basis.  In an article which came out in December, 2012, it was stated that :Marijuana use is holding steady among eighth, 10th- and 12th-graders in the United States.”  ( http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2012/12/19/marijuana-use-holds-steady-among-u-s-teens/) .It’s not just teens, the article stated; it’s kids as young as 8th grade! The article said that statistics proving marijuana use increase was gotten from studying 45,000 8th, 9th and 10th graders. In other words, a whole lot of kids smoke marijuana.

But O’Mara’s job is to get his client off, and it feels like there will be no justice for Martin. The young man will be made out to be a “druggie” who was probably, as Zimmerman said, “acting suspicious.”  Martin’s mother said in a TIME article in 2012, “They’ve killed my son. Now they’re trying to kill his reputation.” ( http://healthland.time.com/2012/03/27/did-marijuana-use-sentence-trayvon-martin-to-death/)

What O’Mara is doing is good defense attorney stuff – but it is offensive, as offensive as it is when defense attorneys defend rapists and suggest that the accusing woman brought about her own rape. If anything, it seems like George Zimmerman brought about this entire tragedy by following Trayvon when he was asked not to, but that point is not being argued very effectively by the prosecution.

As a mother, my heart aches for Sybrina Fulton, whose son is dead, and for Gladys Zimmerman, whose son is on trial, but my aching for Fulton is accompanied by anger and a sense of insult that Mark O’Mara has put in the minds of the jurors that all of this was Martin’s fault.

Just like women who have been raped have been reluctant to come forward for fear of a lack of justice, so have been black people been reluctant. Over the years, all-white juries have ignored evidence and convicted black people at will. The killers of Emmet Till got off when it was clear they had killed the young black boy. Mamie Till, Emmet’s mother, had the strength to stand in and through the cloud of injustice that served as the “trial” for her son’s killer’s…in spite of not receiving justice.  Emmet Till was thought to have caused his own death as well, by whistling at a white woman.

The verdict has yet to be announced. It may be that Zimmerman is convicted of something, if not second degree murder, then something, which will make it seem like justice has been done. That is the hope, but it is a dim hope as the defense works to Trayvon seem like a young black thug who brought about his own demise.

It is insulting.

A candid observation …

 

When Silence is Evil

The entire country has been in an uproar –  rightfully so – about the killing of Trayvon Martin.  The rush to apply Florida’sstand your groundlaw by Florida authorities to explain and justify the actions of accused shooter George Zimmerman has enraged this nation, most especially the parents of young Martin, who want justice in the killing of their son. We are all watching to see how this case pans out.

But there was another case of an individual using the “stand your ground” law, this one a young African-American woman, who did not kill but fired a warning shot to get her physically abusive husband away from her. In this case, unlike the Martin case, it was fairly clear that the woman, Marissa Alexander, was truly defending herself against her husband, but in spite of that, she was accused and convicted of attempted murder. Circuit Court Judge James Daniel sentenced her to 20 years in prison.

Seriously?

Alexander had never been in any trouble; she had never been in jail…and she believed in the justice system. She reportedly did not take a plea bargain that would have had her spend just three years in prison because she said, “I didn’t believe I had done anything wrong.”

Not only did Alexander not actually shoot her husband, but she had filed charges of domestic abuse against him before. In other words, there was a record of his abuse toward her. Her life had been in danger before …and yet, her action of self-defense was ignored. Twenty years in prison, despite a law that is supposed to let people “stand their ground.”

Something is wrong here…including our silence about this case.

I know, from reading books like The New Jim Crow and False Justice that once the justice system makes a ruling, it is extremely difficult to get that decision reversed. But just because such action is difficult does not mean we who see injustice should be silent.

Is it just me, or does this case reek not only of racism but sexism as well? Why is it NOT okay for women who are in abusive relationships to defend themselves? I remember visiting a women’s prison and being amazed at how many women were in jail because they had finally had enough of their husbands beating them to a pulp. Why is it NOT okay for women to defend themselves against abusive husbands, but it is somehow all right for a white man to “defend” himself against even the suggestion of bodily harm by an African-American or Latino man?  In spite of the reports we have had that George Zimmerman was advised by police officers to leave Trayvon Martin alone, he ignored that order and a young, unarmed African-American youth is dead…and the “stand your ground” law is being touted as the law that probably “saved” Zimmerman’s life.

Seriously?

There is no justifiable reason for Marissa Alexander to be in jail for firing a warning shot against her abusive husband. If that is not self-defense, then I am at a loss as to define what self-defense is.  Marissa has an 11-year-old daughter who not only had to witness violence between her parents, but who now has to live her young life without her mother. She also has to grapple with trying to understand why “the law” did not find a way to give justice to her mother.

Marissa has recently been denied a new trial. So, she sits in prison for trying to protect herself.

Something is wrong here…not least of which is our silence about his unfair and unjust case. Our silence is as evil as is the law that put her in jail, and the laws which do little to protect women in cases of domestic abuse.

A candid observation …

Dr. King and the Trayvon Martin Case

Dr. Martin Luther King at a press conference.
Dr. Martin Luther King at a press conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week, as I listened to different people, primarily white, urge people to “trust” the justice system, and to “wait” for the justice system to work in the Trayvon Martin case, I found myself wanting to cover my ears from the din of useless noise.

Useless noise is exactly what it sounded like, this plea for African-Americans to wait for the justice system to work, because the system has so seldom worked on behalf of black, brown and poor people in this nation.

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King talks about “the law,” and how there are just and unjust laws. It seems that white clergy were urging Dr. King to obey the law and to “wait for the justice system to work.” Dr. King pushed back, saying that “there are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application.” I thought of the “stand your ground” law that is apparently protecting accused shooter George Zimmerman from being arrested. Truly, that law is just on its face, but it seems like it was unjustly applied in this case.

Dr. King talks about what is “legal,” in his discussion of just and unjust laws. The white clergy were accusing Dr. King of breaking the law, and therefore doing something illegal. Again, Dr. King pushed back, writing, “We can never forget that everything Hitler did in German was legal and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid a Jew in Hitler’s Germany,” he wrote. If, I thought, Trayvon was the aggressor in this case, according to Florida law, he would have been breaking the law, and would have put himself in the position of having to be fought off.

But it just doesn’t seem that that scenario is correct…and it seemed, as I listened to white people urge others to be calm and obey the law and let the justice system work, that they were more concerned with “law and order” than they were, or are, concerned with justice. Said Dr. King: “the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice, who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action,’ who paternally feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom, who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to ‘wait until a more convenient season,” …is frustrating. He said people of good will who have such shallow understanding are more frustrating than people of ill will who have absolute, total misunderstanding.”

It is apparently very difficult for white Americans to understand the “souls” of black people in this nation, who have been so battered, and not bettered by, the justice system. There are reasons why the rage is so obvious about young Trayvon’s shooting and Zimmerman’s non-arrest. The reasons reach far back into our history; many of us have relatives who were abused by a justice system which never intended to exhibit justice toward them or their cases. And now, here in the 21st century, we find that really not all that much progress has been made.

Roland Martin, CNN commentator, said that if there are no protests, we cannot hope for justice. Had it not been for the bravery and tenacity of Trayvon’s parents, this case would have been swept under the rug with no mention; another young black male would simply have been buried…but Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s parents, sounded the battle cry, blew the trumpet, if you will. Their refusal to let their son die in vain reminded me of how Emmett Till‘s mother, Mamie, catapulted the national shame called lynching to international attention when she refused to let her son’s death be ignored.

Dr. King, in Letter from a Birmingham Jail, wrote, “Oppressed  people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come.”  He acknowledged that “few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those that have been oppressed, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.

Dr. King’s words, written in the mid 1960s, are just as appropriate today. The demonstrations against what appears to be gross injustice in the Trayvon Martin case must continue …or else, there will be no justice.

A candid observation…