Report Back From Philly

With No Justice in the Courts, People Will Look to the Streets

Last Sunday over 1,000 people took their anger to the streets of Philadelphia in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin.  A handful of groups, including the National Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee had called for a rally against what was so clearly a racist verdict.  After a few short speeches by various groups that called the rally, it quickly turned into a spirited march from Love Park flowing around City Hall, through Independence Mall, and to the Liberty Bell. 

At this ironic location, perhaps chosen to highlight the lack of justice, equality, or liberty for Black people in America, many people got on the mic to voice their rage, sorrow, and ideas for how to get justice. Although there were many different ideas of how to move forward, it was inspiring to see a free and open public discussion as opposed to the tightly controlled rally in Spring of 2012, where a small group of conservative clergy laid the blame for Trayvon’s murder squarely on Black people themselves! This time, most of the conservative folks didn’t show up (choosing instead to attend the Saturday event), and rather than physically forcing those with different opinions off the mic, those running things simply tried to provide a space for people to speak their minds. 

Upon returning to Love Park to meet up with the hundreds of people who had missed the march, it slowed upon passing a memorial to Trayvon Martin as people lit candles and took pictures.  What made this memorial even more powerful was that it was located at the statue of Philadelphia’s notoriously racist ex-Mayor Frank Rizzo.  What could be more appropriate than a memorial that rejects the brutal and racist history of the Rizzo years?  Also, as a result of this memorial and the vigil that went along with it, an annual memorial for Frank Rizzo himself was called off, a small victory.

Through all the different perspectives at the march, many people quickly connected this case of individual racist violence with the daily, systemic racism that they deal with in their lives.  One speaker drew attention to the gutting of public education in Philly, asking “Where did the money go?” The answer lies in the 100 million dollar youth prison recently opened at 48th and Haverford Ave, or the 90 million dollar proposed new police headquarters at 46th and Market St. These funding priorities point us to the more serious problem of official state murders carried out by the police.  

Most people expressed a belief (or hope) that Zimmerman will be killed sooner rather than later.  While we certainly aren’t opposed to this, it is not a real solution.  Any action against Zimmerman must be decided on collectively, not individually, and must point toward a systemic solution. We must build the independent organizations that can guarantee justice without relying on vigilante retribution or the legal system.

Despite the enthusiasm of the crowd, as expected there was very little political clarity  or unity from the rally.  Obviously everyone understood that Trayvon was murdered because he was Black, but further than that many different perspectives could be heard.  Some speakers called for an economic boycott of Florida, others for Black people to register themselves to vote or get involved in community centers, and still others argued that this case was just one example of system of white supremacy.

The most hyped action was the boycott of Florida, which received a mixed response from the crowd.  People wanted to do something, but this seemed so removed from their daily lives.  While Florida certainly deserves to be boycotted, we must ask ourselves what state government doesn’t deserve economic sanctions for racial injustices that happen there?  This is America, after all.

What about Rodney King, Oscar Grant, and Alan Blueford in California? What about Rekia Boyd in Illinois, or Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham, and Kimani Gray in New York?  What about the MOVE bombing, Hassan Pratt, and Derrick “Browny” Flynn here in Pennsylvania? What about all the others whose names never even make it on the news? Registering to vote becomes an exercise in futility for Black people when their self-professed allies in power betray them so consistently.  In Philadelphia we need look no further than Democratic Mayor Nutter’s agenda of school privatization, prison expansion, and racist youth curfews to see that Black politicians don’t give a damn about ordinary Black people any more than white politicians do. 

The question now that so many thousands of people across the country have stood up against this latest outrage is: where does that anger go?  Al Sharpton called for the rallies Saturday outside federal buildings to get the Federal Government to press civil rights charges against Zimmerman.  It is obvious to the whole damn world by this point that Zimmerman violated Trayvon Martin’s civil rights.  We doubt, however, that even if Zimmerman is convicted on these charges any sentence he receives will be close to what he deserves for murdering an unarmed 17 year old boy.  The American justice system already gave George Zimmerman a free pass on murder. 

Rather than debate this specifics of the case, or the “stand your ground” laws that viciously exacerbate racism (while not causing it), we must acknowledge that the system isn’t broken.  It functioned exactly as it was intended to.  If we want to prevent another Trayvon Martin and avenge all those who have been taken from us before and after him, we must realize that only we can save ourselves.  It is too late to get justice for Trayvon Martin. He is dead and his killer walks free. What we can do is organize every block, every street, every ‘hood so that the George Zimmermans of the world don’t dare show their faces.  The problem is not just random Gun-toting wannabe cops, but a system armed to the teeth.

It is one thing to say these things must be done and it is another entirely to do them.  While we offer this critique and analysis to those who are interested in justice, we recognize that this fight is beyond the scope of any one organization. 

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