Stand Your Ground for Trayvon Martin and All Our Children, By Ruth Hopkins
On Saturday, the very foundations of humanity shook when George Zimmerman was pronounced not guilty for the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17 year old African American high school student that he stalked, shot, and killed. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, was reportedly running errands when he saw Martin walking through the gated community they were both staying in, and immediately became suspicious of him. Despite a warning from police dispatch not to pursue Martin, Zimmerman did just that. Upon catching Martin, Zimmerman claims that they fought, leading to Zimmerman pulling his sidearm. After slaying Martin, Zimmerman sought refuge under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. This law authorizes the use of force by private citizens when there is a reasonable belief of an unlawful threat. Further, it does not require them to retreat first.
The case was replete with racial overtones. Zimmerman, although Hispanic, racially profiled young Martin, or he would not have pursued him. Others claimed that Zimmerman, as well as his family, had a history of being prejudice against Blacks. Taken as a whole though, the Zimmerman trial and the resulting not guilty verdict are symptomatic of a larger problem; young minority men, guilty of nothing more than being brown, are being murdered at an alarming rate by white men. Further, their surviving families, who’ve already suffered a tremendous loss, are receiving no justice.
Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon. The United States has a long and twisted colonial history of exercising brutal vigilante justice against men who are not white. Often these horrendous murders had little to do with the actual procuring of justice and more to do with enforcing white supremacy. While most people are aware of the lynching of innocent African American men in the south, most do not know that Asian, Hispanic, and Native American men have all been victims of lynch mobs too.
Thousands of Native men have been lynched since European invaders arrived. One of the earliest lynchings happened in 1642. After his village of over 100 men, women and children were slaughtered, a young, unidentified Native man was hacked to death by Dutch settlers in the area now called New York City. That’s just one example. There’s also a mural in a county courthouse in Boise, Idaho that depicts the lynching of a Native man.
But cases like Zimmerman’s should heighten our concern, because they effectively prove that Stand Your Ground laws can be used to disguise racial hate crimes as vigilante justice sanctioned by state governments. Florida is hardly the only state with Stand Your Ground Laws. Native Americans are the largest minority population in North and South Dakota, and both states have Stand Your Ground Laws. Natives living in North and South Dakota know that racism is alive and well here. A South Dakota chapter of the KKK was recently featured on a National Geographic program. As the mother of a very brown, nearly full blood Oceti Sakowin 17 year old son, I fear for his safety. The Zimmerman case is bigger than the tragic events of that dark, rainy night in February. You see, Trayvon Martin is our son too- his shadow is cast over every young minority in the United States now, and we would be naïve to think more will not follow his untimely, wrongful demise unless we stand together now and say NO MORE. If you’re the parent of a minority child, regardless of your background, ethnicity, or belief system- or even if you agree with the Zimmerman verdict, you are now a revolutionary called to fight for the survival of your children. No child should be forced to live in hiding, unable to safely walk down the street because someone who is afraid of brown people might think he, or even she, is a threat and shoot him or her dead.
Perhaps even more disturbing however, has been the public’s reaction to the verdict. It’s revealed how systemic and pervading racism still is in this country. Trayvon Martin, the murder victim, is being continually put on trial and judged when he did nothing wrong. Some claim that Zimmerman was only defending himself, but deny that Martin had that same right. Friends and relatives are fighting over whether or not the verdict was just, and why.
What people are failing to realize is that we’ve all been lied to. Culture is real, yes- but race is an illusion. There is only one race- the human race. We are all the same species. We all share the same DNA. What divides us is a mental block based purely on physical traits and the stereotypes, misconceptions and false history that we’ve been conditioned to believe that they represent. We’ve all been brainwashed, folks. The colonial system feeds the racism lie because they need it to control us and keep us separate. As long as we are divided, we as a people are weaker, and less able to effect change.
In my mind, Zimmerman being acquitted of murder and manslaughter was an absolute travesty, but I can’t say that I was shocked. There are two Americas. There’s the old guard, the ‘white picket fence‘ colonial America, built on land stolen from Indigenous peoples over the broken backs of African slaves, where PoC are still second class citizens who are seen as less than equals, and where although not all of its actors maybe white, the agenda of white privilege indeed dominates, and then there is the new guard- a progressive 2013 citizenry comprised of those the old guard would call ‘the Other,’ who face oppression every single day yet push forward with determination and hope. When Zimmerman was found not guilty, the old guard flexed its muscle. But I believe this is one of a few last gasps before it dies for good.We will pull together. We must, for the sake of Earth and all our children.