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Trayvon Martin: The myth of US post-racialism

26 March 2012 General 29 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

”]Mass incarceration in US prisons is one of the main channels through which racism is perpetuated [GALLO/GETTY] (AlJazeera English) by Linda Sarsour and Khalid and Khaled Beydoun

Washington, DC – Trayvon Martin was just beginning his life. Trayvon Martin was a son. He was a high school junior, with college to look forward to, a career and perhaps a family of his own.

Trayvon Martin was many things, but for George Zimmerman, he was just Black.

The teenager’s race was enough to raise “suspicion” and trigger the neighbourhood watchman – who possessed no training or authority, except for his racist prerogatives – to murder an unarmed and frightened teenager running for his life.

On November 28, 2011, no other colour but his Blackness mattered – and his rush for safe haven was intercepted by Zimmerman, and the structurally entrenched demonisation of Black men codified in our laws, perpetuated by our police forces and subscribed to by our friends and colleagues, classmates and family members.

Trayvon Martin is not, as many writers and pundits commented following his death, “a reminder of American racism”. For Africans Americans and most people of colour, racism, xenophobia and religious animus are common, if not expected, parts of their daily lives.

In the case of Trayvon Martin, a twin set of correlated racisms prematurely ended his life: Zimmerman’s view that a young Black male must be engaged in criminal or thuggish activity by virtue of his race alone; and the neighbourhood watchmen and police alike who execute the structural racism embedded in police departments and penal systems nationwide in the name of the law.

The myth of the Obama era

The election of President Barack Obama, for white America, signalled the shift away from America’s racially charged past. After 2008, white Americans have contended that the United States is experiencing the embryonic stages of a post-racial moment; Martin’s murder is a reminder of the fatal consequences of racism that makes the headlines. Yet, the intermediary steps – the institutional racism and empowering of people like Zimmerman – to police our communities either formally or informally are not deemed newsworthy.

Racism, generally understood as a conscious perspective, action or decision, is a salient core of the US’ history and present. American racism is interwoven into the country’s narrative, codified in its law and entrenched in its institutions. Its authors and gatekeepers were, and are, still largely white.

Whites seldom experience racism, either in its fatal, frequent, or latent form. This constructs the political ideology that the rest of the US has entered this racism-free utopia. Citizenship to this colour-blind state, however, is denied to African Americans, Muslim Americans and Latinos by virtue of a triumvirate of suspicions: crime, terrorism and illegal immigration.

However, whites are not the only culprits of racism. On March 10, an Arab American gas station clerk on the Westside of Detroit gunned down and killed a 24-year-old African American customer after a dispute over the high-price of condoms. Racially charged crimes and murders between Latinos and Blacks are all too frequent, and the sometimes-explosive tension between Asian American and Arab American storeowners is well documented.

Institutional and structural racism is still robust in the US. This is evidenced by the disparate incarceration rates of brown and Black Americans, the decimation of affirmative action and race-conscious legislation in the US, the crumbling public education systems in minority-populated communities and the all too common cold blooded murders of people of colour – both in the US and beyond its boundaries, whether by policemen, neighbourhood patrolmen or soldiers.

The ‘worst of a national psychosis

Kumar Rao, a defence lawyer for the Bronx Defenders in New York City, stated that: “Martin’s killing reflects the absolute worst of a national psychosis: The view that Black males – young and old alike – are inherently threatening and unworthy of personal security; and that the state’s commitment to enduring that belief is perpetuated and institutionalised.”

Trayvon Martin’s murder was avoidable, but yet perversely justified through the cold silence of the state.

Zimmerman was a neighbourhood patrolman – not a police officer – but the distinction is thin in this instance. Some police officers, from Miami to Oakland, exhibit the same reckless and cavalier behaviour as Zimmerman. What is more troubling is that police officers and entire departments routinely cover up racially charged arrests, the roughing up of individuals under custody and operate with impunity under the cover of the law.

Yet, for Zimmerman, he had no such cover. This makes this case more absurd and baffling, particularly because he was given police orders to “discontinue his chase of Martin”, as revealed by 9/11 tapes released on March 19. If Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watchman – a volunteer with no training – had obeyed the policeman’s order, Martin would still be alive today.

Zimmerman ignored those order, and took the law into his own hands; he has still not been arrested.

The importance of Trayvon Martin’s is also based on the urgency of the current socio-political moment. The New York Police Department makes every Muslim in the City, whether Black or Arab, South Asian or Latino, targets of illegal spying or worse – unjust convictions of terrorism based solely on their religion and ethnicity. The fact that the NYPD so far as to label Black American Muslims as an “ancestry of interest” shows how far law enforcement would go to justify religious and ethnic profiling.

Connecting the dots

Arab and Muslim Americans in New York are connecting the dots – whether it is the stopping and frisking of young Black and Latino men or the illegal spying on the everyday aspects of Muslims, people of colour are being targeted by the largest police force in the country. In order to defeat the institutionalised racism of the NYPD and set a precedent for the rest of the country, we must build coalitions, connect our struggles and in unison demand accountability for our communities. None of us will win alone.

In June 2009, a Miami policeman shot and killed Husein Shehada, a 29-year-old Arab American, after an evening club-hopping with his brother and girlfriend. Shehada, like Martin, was unarmed and posed no threat. Yet, the white policeman, Adam Tavss, believed that Shehada’s ethnicity substantiated the suspicion to shoot and kill.

The value of Arab life – whether nameless Palestinian children bombed by American-funded fighter jets or American youth profiled, questioned and incarcerated for frequenting a particular mosque – is spiralling downwards rapidly in the US and at a more accelerated rate in the Arab World.

Trayvon Martin is not a martyr or a symbol of racial injustice. Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Malice Green or Ramaley Graham, are all other young African American men shot down and killed because of the colour of their skin and countless others that remain unnamed. Most recently, Troy Davis shook the nation as another victim of a broken justice system that continues to fail people of colour not one person at a time but through mass incarceration and mass conviction rates.

Trayvon Martin was his own person and an archetype of our brothers, our sons, our nephews, grandsons. Trayvon is Mohammed walking down Atlantic Avenue, vulnerable to patrolmen wary of his beard. Trayvon is Carlos, donning Dodger Blue in Pico Rivera, mistaken by the LAPD Gang Squad as a gangbanger because of the colour of his skin.

Linda Sarsour is Palestinian Muslim American, non-profit leader, public speaker and community organiser.

Follow her on Twitter: @Lsarsour

Khaled A Beydoun is a Washington, DC-based attorney and author.

Follow him on Twitter: @Legyptian

Original post: Trayvon Martin: The myth of US post-racialism

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29 Comments »

  1. Oh God…… don’t start talking about this…..

  2. LOL@ LAPD mistake …its like Oh im sorry…. :p

  3. And I must be a white, black hating, money grubbing Jew. Oh, and since I’m white I must be apart of the 1% and the CEO of a multibillion dollar insurance company.

    You notice, I’m not all that. Stereotypes and playing the race card won’t get you no where.

  4. Let’s wait for the case to unravel. Ditto for the beaten Iraqi woman.

  5. I’m guessing that also explains why you are completely missing the point….

  6. I have been following this story with a heavy heart. But I find this particular article difficult to read due to its awkward phrasing and blatant (unsubstantiated) assumptions.

  7. This story is complicated by the fact that an eyewitness has come forward saying it was Martin beating Zimmerman.The eyewitness and the physical evidence are consistent with Zimmerman’s claim of self defense.Which might explain why the police have not charged Zimmerman.Though you could question whether Zimmerman used excessive force against Martin.I find it interesting that President Obama has not spoken out about the bounty placed on Zimmerman by the New Black Panther Party. Considering the fact that Zimmerman has not been charge with any crime and we have the rule of law not mob “justice” in the US.

  8. And the news is now saying some “info” got leaked that the teen had some pot residue in a book bag at school….SO WHAT.. Still does not justify a grown man killing a teen walking home from a store with only a tea and some candy…Yup, you’re an adult that harasses a police department with numerous bogous calls, so sure go ahead and kill a young kid and claim false self defense ,,That creep needs to be put down like a rabid dog…

  9. My campus tonight had a walk to protest the injustice of this whole case. I just got back from it. I can only hope change occurs. Pour enough vibes into the atmosphere and maybe something’ll happen?

  10. But my question is thus. What if Trey was Muslium? Would the country still be up in arms?

  11. But my question is thus. What if Trey was Muslium? Would the country still be up in arms?

  12. But my question is thus. What if Trey was Muslium? Would the country still be up in arms?

  13. This story is totally wrong. The kid attacked the man, breaking his nose and giving him a head injury before he was shot. Pictures of his thug gang behavior have been taken from his twitter and myspace accounts.

    Perhaps this racist web site should do some research before the print lies.

  14. Keep searching the papers people. You will find that he got suspended for 10 days for walking in an “unauthorized” part of his school. TEN days?? Where was her walking, into the Principals office? Plus, the picture Treyvon is when he was about 10. He was 16 at the time, he doesn’t look like an innocent kid any more. I am not saying he should have been killed because he should not have. But he also did a number on Zimmerman. Zimmerman had a right to defend himself after being punched. He should not have followed, and should not had used his gun, I agree. All I am saying is read the WHOLE story, not just the cover up you hear on Fox news. The boy wasn’t the angel the news is making him out to be.

  15. Keep searching the papers people. You will find that he got suspended for 10 days for walking in an “unauthorized” part of his school. TEN days?? Where was her walking, into the Principals office? Plus, the picture Treyvon is when he was about 10. He was 16 at the time, he doesn’t look like an innocent kid any more. I am not saying he should have been killed because he should not have. But he also did a number on Zimmerman. Zimmerman had a right to defend himself after being punched. He should not have followed, and should not had used his gun, I agree. All I am saying is read the WHOLE story, not just the cover up you hear on Fox news. The boy wasn’t the angel the news is making him out to be.

  16. Keep searching the papers people. You will find that he got suspended for 10 days for walking in an “unauthorized” part of his school. TEN days?? Where was her walking, into the Principals office? Plus, the picture Treyvon is when he was about 10. He was 16 at the time, he doesn’t look like an innocent kid any more. I am not saying he should have been killed because he should not have. But he also did a number on Zimmerman. Zimmerman had a right to defend himself after being punched. He should not have followed, and should not had used his gun, I agree. All I am saying is read the WHOLE story, not just the cover up you hear on Fox news. The boy wasn’t the angel the news is making him out to be.

  17. To me, it’s RACIAL PROFILING. Sharpton and Jackson are not gonna drop this until every town in the US hears about it. It is NOT FAIR that one person should spoil the entire apple cart so to speak.

  18. To me, it’s RACIAL PROFILING. Sharpton and Jackson are not gonna drop this until every town in the US hears about it. It is NOT FAIR that one person should spoil the entire apple cart so to speak.

  19. To me, it’s RACIAL PROFILING. Sharpton and Jackson are not gonna drop this until every town in the US hears about it. It is NOT FAIR that one person should spoil the entire apple cart so to speak.

  20. Sadly, the problem with most of Americans is they want to jump on the band wagon against Zimmerman and join in in echoing how bad and nasty blacks or Latino’s or Muslims, or every other ethnic group is. Seems to me, the whites get off fairly easy. They certainly don’t have a bad rap like every other ethnic group, and I think that’s very wrong.

  21. Sadly, the problem with most of Americans is they want to jump on the band wagon against Zimmerman and join in in echoing how bad and nasty blacks or Latino’s or Muslims, or every other ethnic group is. Seems to me, the whites get off fairly easy. They certainly don’t have a bad rap like every other ethnic group, and I think that’s very wrong.

  22. Sadly, the problem with most of Americans is they want to jump on the band wagon against Zimmerman and join in in echoing how bad and nasty blacks or Latino’s or Muslims, or every other ethnic group is. Seems to me, the whites get off fairly easy. They certainly don’t have a bad rap like every other ethnic group, and I think that’s very wrong.

  23. We must not let this murder go unpunished!

  24. We must not let this murder go unpunished!

  25. We must not let this murder go unpunished!

  26. The fact he shot the kid yells crazy guy. I mean most sane people would not just shoot someone. It reminds me of those racist idiots who seem to think they can rationalize hate. They only think that because they are not rational.

  27. Why wasn’t Z arrested for disobeying the police order to halt pursuit? He was a wannabe policeman, a vigilante type.

    As usual, both people involved are less than ideal.

  28. anon,

    “police order to halt pursuit” what are you talking about? what order? the 911 dispatcher saying, “ok, we don’t need you to do that.” something like that. that’s not a legally binding order? listen the guy is probably a wanna be cop. he shouldn’t have a gun on neigborhood watch. he shouldn’t have followed martin, shouldn’t have confronted him. but none of that is illegal. you are still free in america to approach someone and ask them questions. they can choose not to answer, walk away, or tell you to f-off. they can’t punch you in the face. and pound your head into the sidewalk. not to mention there are alot of armed people in america. they might shoot you for that. or stab you with an icepick.

    http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/article1221412.ece

    but everyone was there and knows what happened right. ya’ll are eyewitnesses? funny i thought there were only two witnesses and they corroberated zimmerman’s story. that’s why he wasn’t arrested. you sound like the people who say you can heard the kid screaming on the 911 tapes. no you can hear someone screaming.

  29. anon,

    looks like they took him to the station. chose not to arrest him.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-17553325

    maybe the 911 dispatcher wasn’t a deputised person. not able to give “the police order to halt pursuit”???????

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