Calling for Justice for Trayvon Martin
Michelle Alexander, legal scholar and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, reflects on how the murder of Trayvon Martin is not an isolated event:
“We’ve got to get serious about consciousness-raising and organizing in our communities. We’ve got to move beyond these bursts of outrage in response to travesties of justice (think Troy Davis, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, and Trayvon Martin) and awaken to the reality that Jim Crow justice is alive and well. These aren’t isolated, disconnected events. Use this tragedy to start a broader conversation in your school, your place of worship, your workplace, or your community center, about what is necessary to end this new Jim Crow system — a system that our nation keeps pretending doesn’t really exist.”
Professor Alexander was one of the featured speakers at a PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) Clergy Conference in New Orleans that I attended this fall with UUA staff colleagues and other UU ministers. She spoke about how there are more African Americans under correctional control today – in prison or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850. Despite the fact that crime rates have fluctuated and are currently at historic lows, the number of African American men imprisoned has soared.
A large percentage of these men are denied the right to vote, serve on juries, and are subject to legal discrimination in employment, housing, and public benefits-just as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era. According to Alexander, “Our system of mass incarceration functions more like a caste system than a system of crime prevention or control.”
The shooting of Trayvon Martin is tragic evidence of the accuracy of Alexander’s analysis. The reason he was followed, questioned, and eventually shot and killed is because George Zimmerman’s response to Travyon Martin seems to be more consistent with maintaining a caste system, e.g. “What are you doing here?” than with preventing crime.
Consider these facts:
- George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, followed, shot and killed Trayvon Martin- an unarmed, African American teenager with no criminal record.
- Zimmerman was carrying a 9 millimeter handgun while Martin was carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea.
- Zimmerman weighs 250 pounds while Martin weighed 140.
- When Martin asked Zimmerman why he was following him, Zimmerman responded, “What are you doing here?”
We are outraged because it appears that the only reason Trayvon Martin was followed, shot, and killed by George Zimmerman was because he was a young African American male in a place that someone thought he had no right to be.
Let us move beyond outrage to action by signing on to this letter by Trayvon Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, calling on Norman Wolfinger, Florida’s 18th District State’s Attorney, to investigate their son’s murder and prosecute George Zimmerman for the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin.
Let us also heed Michelle Alexander’s call to broaden the conversation to our schools, our places of worship, our workplaces, and our families and friends about what is necessary to end this new Jim Crow system.
Michelle Alexander will be one of the featured speakers at the Unitarian Universalist Association Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, AZ this June.