First we must start by saying that our thoughts and prayers are with the Martin family as they deal with the aftermath of the not guilty verdict for the death of their son Trayvon. They have carried themselves with the utmost dignity and class throughout this entire ordeal.
The death of Trayvon Martin and subsequent acquittal of his killer George Zimmerman outraged most of us in the nation. Despite having a collective feeling of being kicked in the stomach by the verdict, many black folks we have spoken to state they were not surprised by it. The verdict was a reminder that after being in this country since its inception, black folks are still not truly accepted. We are not truly welcome. And most importantly we are not afforded the type of justice that so many others seem to enjoy.
After several days of action, strategizing and more action, we had the opportunity to take a step back and reflect. There are several key lessons we took from this tragedy that strengthen our commitment to advancing racial justice.
• Anti-black bias, racism and overall fear of blackness are still the foundation for the system of structural racialization that is woven into the fabric of our society. Trayvon was profiled, stalked, attacked, and killed because in George Zimmerman's eyes he was a young, scary black male that had no business in his community. His very blackness is what made him suspicious, made him guilty, and made him a threat. The dominant narrative around young black males portrays them as overly aggressive, violent thugs that must be dealt with. And we strongly believe that characterization of Trayvon is what was going through Zimmerman's mind when he killed him.
• As black people, our labor, our education, our vote and even our lives continue to have lesser value in this society. From the police initially identifying Trayvon as a John Doe despite his being killed 60 yards from where his father was staying, to his admitted killer going free for six weeks before being charged, to the terrible jury decision that basically stated Trayvon was responsible for his own death; all demonstrate the lack of value placed on the life of this young black man.
• This is not time for a national dialogue on race, but rather mass political education on how race operates and plays out in the 21st century in order to get everyone on the same page. Real dialogue can't happen if the parties involved don't speak the same language. Conservatives continue to discuss race through a 1950s lens of interpersonal acts of prejudice and violence, while Progressives tend to articulate an institutional and structural analysis around race. Sadly, very few people have discussed what we believe is one of the root causes of this entire tragedy and that is unconscious bias.
• Justice was served in this case. Zimmerman was eventually arrested and tried, but ultimately found not guilty by a jury of his peers. The anger and frustration many of us feel is because justice was served within the confines of a severely flawed and highly racialized justice system. We have a justice system that produces racialized outcomes at every step of the process. This includes race-based arrests, trials, convictions, and lengths of sentences. It also includes who gets released and who gets fully reintegrated into society once released.
The Workers Center for Racial Justice is committed to building a strong movement for racial justice. Many of us are pushing the Justice Department to file charges against George Zimmerman for violating Trayvon's civil rights, but we should not stop there. Justice for Trayvon should be the beginning and not the end of a broader struggle for racial justice.