Murdered by racism

Trayvon and Troy

By: Rebekah Skelton

A 17-year-old walked to a convenience store near his father’s house to buy Skittles and iced tea. A 20-year-old went to a pool party and stopped at a Burger King on his way home. Both were young men who were guilty of nothing more than living while being Black. Now, both are dead. 

Trayvon Martin was shot on February 26 in a residential neighborhood in Sanford, Fla., because he was wearing a hoodie, and George Zimmerman thought he looked “suspicious.” Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia last September because two decades ago, the Savannah Police Department was determined to arrest and try someone in connection with Officer Mark MacPhail’s murder, regardless of his guilt or innocence.

While the circumstances surrounding the two cases are different—Martin was killed by a vigilante while walking in a residential neighborhood; Davis was railroaded to the execution chamber by the justice system—the root cause of their murders is the same: systemic racism.

In the book The New Jim Crow, author Michelle Alexander writes, “Since the nation’s founding, African Americans repeatedly have been controlled through institutions such as slavery and Jim Crow, which appear to die, but then are reborn in new form, tailored to the needs and constraints of the time.” 

These constraints, the “new Jim Crow,” are what the country is now facing, with legislation such as Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law and the use of the death penalty, which is systemically racist.

Most of the time when politicians are called upon to do something about these laws—to stop Davis’ execution or to arrest and charge Zimmerman—they have a hands-off attitude, seemingly saying, “These are the laws, there’s nothing we can do.” 

But there is something they can do. They make the laws, and they can change them, too! 

Zimmerman was finally arrested and charged with second-degree murder for killing Martin. Unfortunately, though, this isn’t about one isolated incident. While Zimmerman pulled the trigger, he is merely a product of the society that created him—a society where racism is deeply entrenched, whether people are conscious of it or not. 

This racism is what put the idea in Zimmerman’s head that a Black kid in a hoodie must be a criminal. But the question remains: Why is it that young Black or brown men are seen as criminals? Why not the middle-aged white men in their corporate hi-rises? 

“[T]he stigma of race has become the stigma of criminality,” Alexander says. “Throughout the criminal justice system, as well as in our schools and public spaces, young + black + male is equated with reasonable suspicion.”

The response to this racism has to be a new social movement. While cases such as Martin’s and Davis’ are undeniably horrific, they have spurred a kind of organizing that hasn’t been seen in years.

Many other cases of injustice occur every day, yet they seem to go unnoticed by the media and the larger population. In cases that do incite action, families of the victims find the courage to stand up and speak out, demanding justice. And hundreds of thousands of people around the world stand up with them.

This systemic injustice must come to an end. People across the country and around the world need to come together to remind the people who make the laws that they can unmake them, too.

As Alexander writes, “The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.”