By: Campaign to End the Death Penalty
Saturday, July 13, 2013

On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Black youth was profiled, stalked, then shot down in an act of racist vigilantism by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman.

Initially, the police refused to arrest Zimmerman -- an action that ignited waves of protest against the racial bias obvious in the attack itself and in the police's response to the murder. People took to the streets to demand justice for Trayvon, leading to the arrest and indictment of Zimmerman for second degree murder.

Zimmerman's trial has been playing out over the last several weeks, and the jury could return a verdict at any moment.  

It's looking more and more like a conviction of Zimmerman for second degree murder is unlikely. If Zimmerman is convicted of a lesser charge like manslaughter or even pronounced not guilty, it will be a travesty of justice.

As Campaign to End the Death Penalty board member Mark Clements and former juvenile prisoner Mark Clements states, "Had Zimmermann listened and followed what he was instructed to do by Florida police, Trayvon would still be alive. He went out his way to label Trayvon a criminal. Trayvon Martin did not have to die!"

It's widely understood that race has everything to do with this case. Zimmerman wasn’t initially charged with killing Trayvon. He was only charged two months later in response to massive street protests all across this country. Would a black man gunning down a white youth not be immediately charged with murder?

Racism as a key motivation of the murder was explicitly prohibited from the courtroom. Just ask Trayvon's friend Rachel Jeantel. After she testified for the prosecution, she was attacked by the media and the racist internet mob for her speech and the way she delivered her testimony. The thing that stuck in folks' craw is when she relayed that Travyon told her he was being followed by a "creepy ass cracker." The internet was rife with outrage at the "racially divisive" term aimed at Zimmerman: as if a term used to describe a racist who is stalking you is equatable to the racist slurs experienced by black people across this country on a daily basis.

The refusal to recognize racial bias in this case during the trial has only further revealed the harrowing reality of institutionalized racism that permeates the American 'justice' system.

Trayvon's murder came on the heels of mass anger and protest against the state sponsored murder of Troy Davis in Georgia. A growing recognition of the racial bias endemic to the death penalty and the whole criminal justice system -- and a heightened response to police violence in black and brown neighborhoods -- have provided the backdrop to Trayvon's murder and Zimmerman's trial.

As Rebekah Skelton argued in the New Abolitionist, "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?"

Today, as we wait on pins and needles for justice for Trayvon Martin, a movie about the murder of another unarmed young black man opens. Fruitvale Station chronicles the true story of the murder of Oscar Grant at the hands of racist police on New Year's Eve 2009.  Joseph Mehserle, the cop who shot Oscar in the back that fateful night, received a sentence of only 2 years for involuntary manslaughter, and in the end only served 5 months.

Despite this light sentence, it's important to remember that cops shoot unarmed people all the time in this country, and rarely does it result in their arrest, much less conviction.  The only reason Mehserle did any time at all was because of the waves of protests against the shooting of Oscar Grant.

The Zimmerman trial reminds us yet again that we cannot sit by and expect that justice will come at the hands of the cops and the courts.   

A vibrant and unified protest movement is key to winning justice for Trayvon Martin and all the victims of racist violence, whether by vigilantes like or at the hands of the police. If we can't get justice in the court, we have to continue our struggle for justice in the streets.

We remember the history of the struggle for racial justice in this country, recognizing that we are far from a "post racial" society.  As Airickca Gordon-Taylor, the cousin of Emmett Till and the founding director of the Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation reminds us, "The many comparisons regarding the murders of our beloved Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin continue. I pray the final outcome, the verdict rendered in the George Zimmerman trial, vastly contrasts the judicial injustice our family has endured for almost 58 years. Praying for the Martin family and Justice for Trayvon!"

Today, our thoughts are with the family of Travyon Martin, who lost a son because George Zimmerman chose to target and hunt an unarmed child.

Now Trayvon's family has had to endure a farcical trial and face the possibility of a "not guilty" verdict.

The outcome of this trial could potentially send people out into the streets. The Campaign to End the Death Penalty is encouraging folks to find or help create a speakout or protest in your city with others who want to respond to the verdict.

We must continue to speak out for all the Trayvons, Oscars and Troys. We are all Trayvon Martin!  We must continue to cry NO TO RACISM! END THE NEW JIM CROW!