By Larry Hales
Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old Black youth killed by racist vigilante George Zimmerman, was robbed of any opportunities that the future may have held for him. His parents were robbed of their son, his younger stepbrother a guiding hand, his girlfriend, other family members and friends a person who brought them immense joy, laughter, heartache — all the gifts and frustrations that a loved one brings.
And that he was killed by a man who by his own admission chased him because he was Black and wearing a hoodie, yet still walks free because of some dubiously written law, makes the tragedy that much greater.
Many wonder how Zimmerman remains free when the facts of the case are so clear. Trayvon had no weapon and was significantly lighter than Zimmerman, outweighed by nearly 100 pounds.
Trayvon was the one being stalked and then chased in fear for his life. This was validated by the young woman on the other end of the telephone call with Trayvon as the young man fled.
It would seem that the specific provisions of the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law would contravene the decision of the Sanford Police Department to allow Zimmerman to walk free, citing his right to self-defense.
However, this is U.S. society, where the seeds of white supremacy were first planted, a country built on the most extreme forms of oppression and repression. Therefore a law may be written in general, but the atmosphere is poisoned by racism and national oppression. The Florida statute may state that the person using deadly force has to reasonably believe that his or her life is in danger, Zimmerman may have outweighed Trayvon, and Trayvon’s only weapons may have been a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles, but apparently his Blackness was not only enough to draw suspicion but justified the use of deadly force.
The overwhelming evidence showing that a young Black man was executed by a vigilante and then again by a police force that is on record for covering up crimes, especially committed against people of color, begs the question — what is the value of a Black life?
Justice for Trayvon would mean that Zimmerman is arrested, tried and imprisoned; that the entire police department and the officers involved are fired and then tried for covering up the facts of this case; and that the SYG law, in a racist society like this one, is repealed. That would be merely the beginning.
Countless Trayvon Martins
What of Ramarley Graham, the young Black male shot in his bathroom in front of his grandmother and six-year-old brother in Bronx, N.Y., earlier this year?
What of Travis McNeal killed by Miami cops Feb. 11, 2011, when he and his cousin were stopped while driving, or of Decarlos Moore, Joel Lee Johnson and the four other unarmed Black men killed by Miami police last year?
What of 18-year-old Dane Scott Jr. shot in the back by police after a car chase in Del City, Okla., this year?
What about the many more unknown innocent Black men and women beaten, killed or humiliated by police all across the country, or the millions of Black women and men in jail, prison or on parole or probation? These are victims of the racist criminal justice system and of a society that cuts back on spending for schools and allows a greatly disproportionate number of people of color to be jobless, homeless and without hope of finding a well-paying job so they can care for themselves and their families.
The Black unemployment rate is still over 14 percent, and if that number alone isn’t enough to indicate how dire the situation is, a more accurate account reveals that only 56.6 percent of the Black population is employed. For Black youth the unemployment rate is over 40 percent, and the employment ratio is barely over 50 percent.
In his 1967 speech “Where Do We Go From Here,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Of the good things in life, the Negro has approximately one half those of whites. Of the bad things of life, he has twice those of whites.”
That remains so, in housing especially, considering that a large number of people being foreclosed are people of color, with a high number Black. Adjustable rate mortgages were forced on them where the payments quadrupled after four or five years. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, 11 percent of Black homeowners lost their homes from 2007 to the present.
The Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness reports that Black families are seven times more likely to be homeless than whites and 38.8 percent of sheltered people in families are Black. A 2009 Regal Magazine article states that 49 percent of homeless people in total are Black.
Those who live in poverty or near poverty number are about 150 million. The official poverty threshold for a family of four is $24,343, and even a family with a household income of $49,000 struggles.
The average Black household income measured in 2011 was $32,000, a decline of 3.2 percent from the prior year.
Though the statistics appear stark enough, it is important to elucidate the reasons behind the conditions that Black people in the U.S. and all people of color really face.
What is the value of a Black life?
To repeat, what is the value of a Black life? All life is precious. But a system that places the profits of a few over the needs of the many turns the just mentioned mantra on its head. How can life be precious if the necessities of it are commodities to be sold for profit? How can life be precious if much of humanity is engaged in selling their labor to make wealth they will never see for a wage designed to ensure that the buyer of the labor gets their profit and becomes richer still?
It is people of color, Black, Latino/a, Indigenous, Arab and Asian who disproportionately live on the fringes, suffering from years of conquest, genocide, slavery, apartheid and racism — all symptoms of national oppression. Because of their conditions, they are the greatest impetus for change.
National oppression is a byproduct of the for-profit system, a weapon to keep working people and their families from seeing their commonness, to keep people fighting amongst one another over differences in culture, religion and other beliefs.
Trayvon Martin had his life to look forward to. He was just beginning to dream, to piece together what he wanted his adult self to be, but he was a victim of the racism that pervades U.S. society. He was no less than any other 17-year-old, and he may have gone on to do great things, become a leader or a scientist — one will never know.
But, what is sure, is that for any young person, especially an oppressed person, to be guaranteed to reach their full potential, the society that has created disproportionate suffering and hardship based on skin color must be thrown into the dustbin of history, and a new one must be born. Trayvon may have been the leader of such a struggle, but as it is, it will have to be waged in memory of him and all those young Black and other oppressed youth who were victimized until they were sent to an early grave.