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I am Trayvon

on October 20, 2012

Written in the weeks following the national outcry at this injustice and published in SLIK and No Bounds magazine earlier this year.

I AM TRAYVON

Millions worldwide have signed the petition to seek justice for the brutal and unprovoked murder of a 17 year old boy named Trayvon Martin. He was killed in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman a 28 year old self appointed neighbourhood watchman  who decided that he should play judge, jury and executioner of an unarmed child because he decided that Trayvon looked ‘suspicious’.

Trayvon armed with skittles and Iced tea, was walking through the gated community where he lived with his family when he was shot and killed by Zimmerman who initially walked free under the authority’s interpretation of Florida’s Self Defence Laws.

The news of his death, and how Zimmerman had not even been arrested sent shockwaves throughout America and beyond.  “I am Trayvon” was the rallying cry heard at protests organised throughout America. Various congressmen and celebrities donned ‘hoodies’ in protest standing in solidarity with the Martin family. Following the global outrage and weeks of empassioned campaigning, Zimmerman was arrested and charged with 2nd degree murder nearly 2 months after Trayvon’s death. However as Rev Sharpton said on the day the news of this broke out, ” Had there not been pressure there would not have been a second look. This is a not a night for celebration, this is not a night that should have happened in the first place.”

At a time like this it is vital to consider what can be learned from such tragic circumstances. What we learn from this, and the way we combat the racist discourse we are being assaulted with is crucial so that we can work towards change as we step out from under this canopy of injustice into brighter more hopeful days.

An rather myopic analysis of events is that Zimmerman was merely an overzealous individual whose ill thought out actions resulted in the death of a minor. Ulitimately he was responsible for his actions which were contrary to the instructions given by the Police Dispatcher he called whilst following Trayvon.

However as uncomfortable as it is for many it is important to throw the net of culpability wider and view this tragedy against a backdrop of wider societal prejudice and deeprooted injustice.Some have then tried to seperate his actions from the thought process leading up to this, condemning the vigilante act of shooting but legitimising the fear and suspicion upon which he acted. This is illustrated clearly in the attitude famously articulated by Rivera a Fox Commentator who urged black and latino young people to stop wearing hoodies in order to avoid Trayvon’s fate. Implicit in this paradigm is an uncritical acceptance of profiling and negative stereotyping.

This issue also goes way beyond gun control , or Florida’s interpretation of self defence laws. These were merely tools to facilitate this collective act of injustice.

And as Britain gets ready to point a smug finger of accusation across the Atlantic, it would be salient to highlight how events in America are being mirrored here in the UK. We are facing a huge problem with stop and search.  According to the London School of Economics and Open Society Justice Initiativ, black people are 30x more likely to be stopped and searched under Section 60 powers. This is linked to racial profiling.

Britain applauded itself for the recent convictions for the killers of 18 year old Stephen Lawrence to proclaim the fairness of our Justice system . However it took 17 years to achieve any sort of justice for Stephen Lawrence. More pertinently it would not have happened without the persistence and unrivalled determination of Doreen and Neville Lawrence who fought, and still are fighting for justice. The fact that 3 of the 5 killers are still walking free is a blight upon the justice system.

The numbers of death in custody remain at an unacceptably high level and we have witnessed in particular, a sharp rise in the numbers of black deaths in custody in recent years. The circ . The circumstances in which these men died are suspicious, and the reasons for death put forward by police lack credibility. The UFFC has been formed in response to this.

These acts of aggression are all on a continuum; from the police man who stops and searches to the one who kills the unarmed black male because he decides he is a threat, and to the Justice system that is slow and unwilling to bring justice. Each method of control, humiliation, and subjucation is held up by the other. Inextricably joined together in an ugly coalition of prejudice and fear.

The eyes of America and indeed the world, are closely following the developments in this case .

While Trayvon’s death received the media coverage that it deserved,  other’s have not. Ramarley Graham, a drug suspect shot dead in his mother’s apartment, and Rekia Boyd shot dead by an off duty police officer were both unarmed and black.

And 15 year old Aspergers Sufferor Stephon Watts was regarded as such a threat when he approached officers with a butter knife that they shot him dead in his parent’s house.

If this case teaches us anything it is that a guiltly until proven innocent approach is untenable. If someone is engaged in criminal activity, due process must be followed.

President Obama has urged that America does some ‘soul searching’ on this incident.

As MLK Jr said “Every step towards the goal of justice requires..the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals” As a rainbow coalition of people from all walks of society stand together action against this affront to justice and humanity, we have seen progress made in a short time. The journey has opened with dialogue but Trayvon’s legacy will be more than words alone.

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