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Lynch Law U.S.A.: State Defends Murderer of Trayvon Martin

Outrage over the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin compounds daily as the killer remains free, facing no criminal charges for gunning down the unarmed black youth from Miami Gardens, Florida. On February 26, George Zimmerman, a white self-appointed captain of a "neighborhood watch" team in a gated community in the Orlando suburb of Sanford, shot Martin, a black high-school student, who was returning to the home in the development where he and his father were staying. Police and local prosecutors never charged Zimmerman and accepted his cynical claim that he shot the unarmed youth in "self-defense." Thousands have demonstrated around the country, particularly after police tapes of 911 calls by Zimmerman were released, showing that he was stalking Martin. But the main thrust of liberals is to divert the protests into a movement for gun control laws and to get rid of "Stand Your Ground" laws such as Florida's which make it legal to shoot in self-defense. The ruling-class response deliberately tries to obscure the key fact that this was racist murder. Trayvon Martin was killed for the "crime" of "walking while black."
Trayvon Martin
Trayvon Martin
The Internationalist
March 2012

Lynch Law U.S.A.: State Defends Murderer of Trayvon Martin

MARCH 26 -- Outrage over the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin compounds daily as the killer remains free, facing no criminal charges for gunning down the unarmed black youth from Miami Gardens, Florida. On February 26, George Zimmerman, 28, a white self-appointed captain of a "neighborhood watch" team in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community in the Orlando suburb of Sanford, shot Martin, a black high-school student, who after going out to buy a bag of Skittles and an ice tea at a convenience store was returning to the home in the development where he and his father were staying. As many have noted, Trayvon Martin was killed for the "crime" of "walking while black."

Police and local prosecutors never charged Zimmerman and accepted his cynical claim that he shot the unarmed youth in "self-defense." Detectives brushed off residents who reported Martin's cries for help. Nor did the cops attempt to contact neighbors to see if anyone's son was missing. They bought the killer's story that Trayvon looked "suspicious" (for having the hood of his sweatshirt up in the rain), was "up to no good" and "on drugs or something" because he was "walking around looking at stuff" (trying to find a house in an unfamiliar neighborhood). This was "racial profiling" like the cops do all the time. If the killer's story wasn't believable, no matter: they assumed that Trayvon was a "perp" and a "bad guy." End of story, case closed.

In Miami, the reaction was different. More than 1,000 people attended Martin's funeral on March 3. Classmates, acquaintances and relatives recalled how Tray dreamed of being a pilot or airline mechanic (attending an aviation school part-time) whose favorite subject was math. An English teacher described him as extremely creative, an A and B student who majored in cheerfulness. The story of his slaying was reported in the local press, one more of so many killings of young black men, destined to be soon forgotten. But his parents were determined that Trayvon not be forgotten and kept on demanding that Zimmerman be arrested and tried for the crime he committed.

There things stood until mid-March when lawyers for Trayvon's mother and father, Sybrina Fulton and Tracey Martin, managed to break into the national media. Protests mushroomed particularly after the police released their tapes of 911 calls by Zimmerman which plainly showed that he was stalking Martin, even after being told by the dispatcher to stop. People could hear the killer saying about his soon-to-be victim, "the assholes always get away." A listener noted Zimmerman muttering what after enhancement sounds like a racist epithet ("f--king c--n") under his breath. The evidence points to the slayer being a racist vigilante on the prowl.

On March 21, the day after the 911 tapes were released, a crowd of over 1,000, mainly black and white young people, showed up in Union Square Park in New York City in response to a Facebook appeal for a "Million Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin." His father vowed, "we're not going to stop until we get justice for Trayvon." More than 8,000 packed into a park in Sanford the next night and thousands more protested in rallies around the country including Seattle, Portland, Chicago and elsewhere. On March 23, students at 50 Florida schools walked out in protest, the Miami Heat posed in team hoodies for Trayvon and President Barack Obama lamented the "tragedy," but carefully tiptoed around the central question of race.

Now that protests over the killing of have gone mainstream, with approval from the top, more are scheduled this week. Church services from Harlem to Miami Gardens this past weekend eulogized Trayvon. As pressure mounted, the U.S. Department of Justice quickly launched a federal civil rights investigation and a Florida state's attorney is investigating. Almost two million people have signed an on-line petition calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman. But the main thrust of liberals, from the New York Times to black Democrats like Jesse Jackson, is to divert the protests into a movement for gun control laws and to get rid of "Stand Your Ground" laws such as Florida's which make it legal to shoot in self-defense.

The ruling-class response deliberately tries to obscure the key fact: the killing of Trayvon Martin was racist murder. It had nothing to do with self-defense, it was a cold-blooded execution. The first witnesses reported Zimmerman, gun in hand, straddling his victim who was lying face down in the grass. Taking guns away from civilians is no answer: the cops are far and away the biggest racist killers in the U.S. And if shooting in self-defense is ruled illegal, you can bet your bottom dollar that blacks will be the first to pay, like Long Island father John White who was jailed for accidentally killing a white youth in a mob in front of his suburban house shouting racist epithets and threatening his son in 2006.

Certainly racist vigilantes will take advantage of "Stand Your Ground Laws" to justify murderous attacks. But to call for the capitalist state to control firearms (as Jesse Jackson did this weekend) is to suggest that the police are or could somehow be neutral or even favorable to the black, Latino, Asian and immigrant population when it is in fact the greatest force of oppression. From the White Citizens Councils of the 1960s to "community watch" groups today, vigilantes get their power from their connection to the state. And following the Monroe, North Carolina NAACP[1] and Bogalusa, Louisiana Deacons for Defense[2] in the 1950s and '60s, to fight them we stand for the right of black armed self-defense.

George Zimmerman is a murderer who certainly belongs behind bars. Even then, calling on the capitalist courts to deliver a "fair" trial or a just verdict only builds illusions in the racist injustice system. So far, the state has backed up the killer, claiming he was "squeaky clean" and had no record, when in fact the record had been expunged. It is possible that in this case, the rulers will eventually give up the killer, who is not a police officer but a cop wannabe. For the ruling class there is an important difference, since it seeks to uphold a monopoly of violence in the hands of its official thugs, in and out of uniform.

Black residents of Sanford were not surprised at the police cover-up of the murder of Trayvon Martin. Chief Bill Lee, who has now "temporarily" stepped down under fire for his defense of Zimmerman's alibi and character, was appointed to "clean up a department tainted by racial scandals" (Miami Herald, 21 March). In 2005, two security guards, one the son of a longtime Sanford police officer, the other a department volunteer, killed a black man they said was trying to run over them. In 2010, the police waited seven weeks to arrest a lieutenant's son who beat up a homeless man, and only did so after a video of the incident surfaced.

In this case, Trayvon Martin's girlfriend was not contacted by police in their "investigation," despite hers being the last recorded call on his cellphone. In an affidavit, she reported that that he phoned her to say that a man was following him and that he was walking briskly, trying to get away. Another 911 call from a frightened neighbor, in whose backyard the shooting took place, records Trayvon in the background repeatedly pleading for help, then silenced by a single gunshot. Martin's lawyers charge that the police made a second incident report claiming Zimmerman had a bloody nose, not mentioned in the original report, to justify not arresting him.

Police knew from the beginning that, far from "standing his ground" in self-defense, Zimmerman was a busybody with a history of dozens of frivolous 911 calls about "suspicious" black people. The Miami Herald (13 March) reported that "Zimmerman went door-to-door asking residents to be on the lookout, specifically referring to young black men who appeared to be outsiders." Now Zimmerman has been endowed with an Hispanic ethnic identity and the media are running interviews with the shooter's neighbors saying he was a former altar boy who helped little black children. But whether or not he was a certified bigot, for which there are plenty of indications, he was a vigilante carrying out lynch law "justice."

And whether or not Trayvon Martin attempted to defend himself from his pursuer, the frightened teenager was stalked and executed because he was black, and his killer is free, because in 2012 in racist, capitalist America, killing an unarmed young black man is considered a minor offense by the authorities. It's not hard to imagine what the police would have done if a young black man had shot a white adult. There are plenty of other recent examples of racist murders and lynchings, notably the gang of white youths who robbed, beat and ran over James Craig Anderson, a middle-aged black family man in Jackson, Mississippi in June 2011.

There was also Brandon McClelland, killed in 2008 in the East Texas town of Paris after being run over by a pick-up truck and dragged by a couple of white youth with a criminal history and ties to white supremacist groups. Charges were dropped for "lack of evidence" even though they found the victim's blood on the truck and an admission. That case eerily resembled the 1998 lynching-by-dragging supremacists in another East Texas town, Jasper, of James Byrd, Jr. by three white, who chained him to a pick-up truck and pulled him for three miles, severing his head, and then dumped his torso in front of an African American cemetery.

Lynching and racist murder are directed at others as well as blacks and don't just take place in the South. In September 2008, an Ecuadorian immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, was stabbed to death by a racist mob of youths in Patchogue, Long Island who had gone out looking for Mexicans to assault (what they called "beaner-jumping").[3] Or there is the recent killing of Shaima Alawadi, an Iraqi woman in San Diego who was beaten to death in her home on this past Wednesday, March 21. A note found by her side read, "Go back to your own country. You're a terrorist." And there are numerous cases of lethal violence against homosexuals, such as the 1998 torture-murder of gay student Matthew Shepard in Wyoming.

In 2009, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, but such legislation has done nothing to curb violent racist, sexist and homophobic attacks. How could it be otherwise in a country where, as Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee leader H. Rap Brown said in the 1960s, violence against the oppressed is "as American as apple pie." And where in the vast majority of cases, it comes straight from the police. When it comes to the cops, America's rulers will stop at nothing to uphold the guard dogs of capital, not hesitating to execute an innocent man, as they did last September with Troy Davis in Georgia and as they tried to do for three decades to class war prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

At the March 21 protest in New York's Union Square, some demonstrators carried signs calling for "Justice for Trayvon Martin and Ramarley Graham," referring to the 18-year-old Bronx youth who was shot and killed in the doorway of his bathroom by police who had broken into his home. Naturally the cops claimed to think he had a gun, although none was found. Everyone recalled the 1999 police murder of Amadou Diallo with 41 bullets fired as he reached for his wallet at the door to his home; and the cop death squad which murdered Sean Bell in a fusillade of 50 bullets on his wedding day in 2006. In both cases the killer cops went free: the most that happened to any of them was that one was fired and lost his pension and health benefits.

The pervasiveness of murderous attacks on the oppressed underscores that this is not a case of a "lone wolf" gunman but a deep-seated social problem. Since the time this country was founded on the economic bedrock of chattel slavery, racism has been part of the DNA of American capitalism. No matter what laws are passed, such as civil rights laws, and what courts rule, as in the formal desegregation of the schools, such laws and decisions are eventually rolled back as reaction sets in. Ultimately, it will take a socialist revolution to put an end to racist police brutality and lynch law murders.

In the meantime, revolutionaries combat illusions in bourgeois "justice" and seek to mobilize the social forces that have the power to bring down the system of capitalist wage slavery: the working class marching at the head of all the oppressed. In November 2010, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 in the San Francisco-Oakland (California) Bay Area stopped work for a day to protest the murder of the young black worker Oscar Grant carried out by police on New Year's Day 2009. As we wrote, "the ILWU action points toward a real mobilization of workers' power against the brutal enforcers of capitalist 'law and order'" ("ILWU Shuts Port Demanding Justice for Oscar Grant," Revolution No. 8, April 2011).

George Zimmerman is guilty as hell, and so are the capitalist rulers of America. Their cops and courts kill dozens of black people like Trayvon every year. In some places, like Albuquerque. New Mexico and Phoenix, Arizona, the killer cops get a bounty check from the police "union" of up to $500 for every killing, to compensate for "stress" (in Phoenix they give a $25 dinner card and free movie tickets every time a cop pulls the trigger). Most of the time they get away with it. Zimmerman the wannabe cop was just doing what police from coast to coast ... and what imperialist military occupiers the world over do on an industrial scale.

NBC TV this morning showcased back-to-back interviews by its top reporter Matt Lauer favorably portraying vigilante Zimmerman and then gushing over the wife of Sgt. Robert Bales the U.S. soldier charged with murdering 17 civilians in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Yet the heinous crimes of these murderers, for which they should pay, come straight from the slaughter ordered by the generals and their commanders, right up to commander in chief Barack Obama in the White House (like George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and their predecessors, mass murderers one and all).

Rather than appealing forlornly to Obama to "do the right thing," we need to build a revolutionary workers party that can sweep away the capitalist system which produces endless lynchings and imperialist massacres. Trayvon Martin, Ramarley Graham, Troy Davis, Shaima Alawadi, Marcelo Lucero, Sean Bell, Patrick Dorismond, Anthony Baez, Malcolm Ferguson, Amadou Diallo, Kathryn Johnston and so many others will be avenged by workers revolution.

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[1] While the bulk of the liberal-led civil rights movement called for turn-the-other-cheek non-violence and looked to the federal government to aid them, some of the most militant sectors understood that it was necessary for African Americans to organize their own defense against the Ku Klux Klan nightriders and other racists. During 1959-61, the Monroe, North Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, led by Robert F. Williams organized armed self-defense guards to protect black neighborhoods from repeated KKK incursions.

[2] During 1964-68, as civil rights workers and black voters faced terrorist assault by the KKK, some of the more militant sections of the NAACP, CORE and SNCC began to take armed self-defense measures. In Bogalusa and nearby areas of Louisiana and Mississippi, an organization consisting primarily of black veterans was formed which came to be known as the Deacons for Defense and Justice. The Deacons provided defense guards for a number of events, including the 1966 March Against Fear from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi.

[3] See "Lynch Mob Murder on Long Island," The Internationalist No. 28, March-April 2009.

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