Tuesday, March 20, 2012

George Zimmerman, the Murder of Trayvon Martin, and the Twenty-First Century Slave Patrol

If there is a version of Godwin's law for discussing African American slavery and the Black Holocaust I always try to step delicately around it. Far too often words such as "lynching," "racism," "field negro," "house negro," "plantation," and "slave catcher" are thrown around with casual disregard for the historical weight which they carry.

In following the most recent developments regarding the murder of Trayvon Martin, I keep returning to one thought.

So much of the existential, psychic, and emotional violence afflicted on people of color in this society is prefaced on a basic idea: there are those who "naturally" belong to a political community and others who are perpetual "guests," "outsiders," or "anti-citizens."

The Black Freedom Struggle was many things: primarily, it was about a fight for civic inclusion, equality, and dignity. The Black Freedom Struggle was also centered on a politics of respectability which keenly understood that white supremacy was dependent on a basic premise: the lowest white person is automatically elevated in social stature, respect, and accomplishment over the most accomplished, brilliant, intelligent, and graceful black person.

Of course, these norms have been massaged and "evolved" to fit the "colorblind" post Civil Rights era. They still exist however, and are as ugly, pernicious (and at times) violent as ever.

"Stop and frisk," "driving while black," housing segregation, being harassed and racially profiled while shopping, and the conservative Right wing vitriol which suggests that President Obama is "uppity" or "arrogant," are all examples of how racism is a cognitive map. The white gaze orders bodies and peoples. Racism puts individuals in the "right" place and reacts with hostility to those who dare to step outside of it.

Trayvon Martin is dead because as a black person he did not follow the approved script. Historically, racism and racial violence have done work through the control of public space. Consider how this works literally in the case of Trayvon Martin. He was killed in a gated community, one located in a town that has a history of racial violence and where black people suffered under Sundown town-like conditions.

Knowing one's rightful place also works in terms of social expectations about power--who has it, how it is exercised, and which types of bodies it can be exercised on with impunity. The idea of blackness being ascribed certain traits and standards of comportment, bearing, behavior, and submission relative to "white" authority is naked and transparent in the phone transcript of George Zimmerman's call to the local police.
7:09 p.m. ET
Dispatcher: "Do you need police, fire or medical?"
Zimmerman: "We had some break-ins in our neighborhood ... and there is a real suspicious guy. ... This guy looks like he's up to no good, he's on drugs or something. It's raining, and he's walking around looking about. "
Dispatcher: "Is this guy white, black, Hispanic?"
Zimmerman: "He looks black."
Dispatcher: "Did you see what he's wearing?"
Zimmerman: "A dark hoodie, grey hoodie, jeans or sweatpants or white shoes. He's walking around staring at the houses.
Dispatcher: "Location?"
Zimmerman: "He's near the clubhouse right now. Now he's coming towards me. He has his hands in his waistband. He is a black male. Something's wrong with him. Yep. He's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands. I don't know what his deal is. Send officers over here."
Dispatcher: "Let me know if he does anything else."
Zimmerman: "These a**holes, they always get away. When you come in go straight to the left ... when you pass the clubhouse ..."
Dispatcher: "Clubhouse? "Now he's just staring at me."
During part of this time, Martin is on the phone with a 16-year-old girl. Below is an account of the phone call as relayed to In Session's Sunny Hostin by a lawyer for the Martin family:
Martin told the girl someone was following him, and she advised him to run. Martin said he isn't going to run but will walk quickly. Zimmerman caught up with him, and Martin asked Zimmerman why he was following him. Zimmerman then asked Martin his name and why he was there. The girl on the phone says she heard Zimmerman push Martin, and then the call drops. She tried to call Martin back, but he didn't respond.
What does it mean to be deemed inexorably and permanently "suspicious?" What does it mean to be forever "suspect?" What does it mean to be marked as a "threat" from "the womb to the tomb?" It means to be "black." This is the new/old Curse of Ham as seen in the social and racial imagination of people like George Zimmerman and his enablers in the local police department.

History echoes. Ultimately, George Zimmerman reminds me of those white men riding on the slave patrols, eager, petty tyrants who are looking for any excuse to put their boots on the throat of a black person in order to raise themselves up a bit higher. They live to control public space, and how different bodies exercise their freedoms and liberties in it.

Maybe I just broke a rule about evoking slavery in discussions of twenty-first century American social and political life. But sometimes a little line-stepping is healthy, necessary, cathartic, and appropriate.


Henri B. said...

It's amazing how many people on discussion forums implied if not outright said that Trayvon should have responded to Zimmerman politely when questioned about his activities. Because it doesn't matter if a maniac in plainclothes is stalking you with a gun, if he's white or white looking he is a de facto authority figure. Insult to injury: It doesn't dawn on people that Trayvon was the only person in that situation who should have been protected by the Stand Your Ground law. Apparently, a busted nose is a good enough reason for a bullet in your chest.

I accidentally put my key in the wrong apartment last week and a white lady came to the door. I guess I'm lucky to be alive.

Brotha Wolf said...

It's insane that one perceives guilt by skin color, and it is the pathology that continues in this country that robs us of our humanity and our lives.

Anonymous said...


I feel ya but I don't need to step into history ...

Dan B. said...

Police officers rank #1 at the top of my list of hated racial/societal groups! You have to be somewhat sadistic to even consider taking a job that would involve killing your fellow countrymen. Cops dream of the day in which they are allowed to legally mame/murder those who are defiant to their "authority." Mr. Zimmerman shares this mentality.

At this very point in writing this comment I was about to speculate on Mr.Zimmermans desire to be a cop and thus googled his name. The very first thing that came up was...

"Trayvon Martin shooting: George Zimmerman dreamed of being a cop"

What a fucking monster!

Understanding the mentality of men is both a gift and a burden I bare.

This scourge wanted to satisfy his urge to take someones life and get away with it. Period.

He belongs in prison.

Trayvon was not murdered solely based on the of the color of his skin. He died because he met the minimum criteria someone of George Zimmerman's below average I.Q. would considered legally murderable.

Weird Beard said...

Whew, I am so glad to hear that this incident wasn't really about racism, but just a wannabe cop. It's comforting to know that skin color really didn't play a big part here. And here I almost thought that this event might have been evidence of racism! Glad you set us straight on that. (Can you believe all these race-chasing asshats trying to use this situation to further their cause of acting like racism still exists in America?) It's just sad all these naive and misguided dummies can only point fingers and play the race card all the time, instead of seeing the real world how it really is (all post-racial and what not). Let's make sure to spread the word and deflect any race-chasing attempts to make this case about race...
...I can't even keep this up, now is not the time, seriously, human to human...do you have any insight or awareness whatsoever into why you are choosing to minimize and trivialize people's experience of racism? Do you understand that doing so is a racial microaggression, (aka you being racist). Is now really the time you would like to add insult to injury considering the context of the situation being discussed here? You come off as either an internet troll, a bigot, slow, or all of the above. People are seriously upset about this murder, so an ounce of humanity, respect, dignity etc. if you have it may be more appropriate than your current approach. Am i wasting my time?

nicoleandmaggie said...

The reaction on the internet from mothers seems to be pretty uniform. That poor boy, that poor family. He was someone's son. That could have been my son. How horrible.

It really drives home the idea of DWB and the true dangers of racism, in a way that extra traffic stops do not. What a horrible horrible way to do that. It's like the protective service system-- nobody notices problems until a baby dies.

fred c said...

This "Dan" thing must be a pose, or a cabal, or computer generated or something, I'm starting to doubt if there's a person there. This incident wasn't a cop thing, and yes, it was a Black thing.

Cops, let's face it, are a necessary evil, and these days young people's decision to become cops is purely financial in most cases. It's a good gig. Cops are not blameless here, but that's on the failure to prosecute, which is higher-up cops and prosecutors. Compared to higher-up cops and prosecutors, most low level cops are a combination of your favorite uncle and Saint Francis of Assisi (especially in big cities I suppose, because standards and pay checks are higher).

This case . . . I don't even want to think about how it makes me feel on so many levels. The poor parents! (For one thing, the level that I can most identify with.) But it's not like a return to the slavery days at all, not semantically or otherwise, not even a little bit. In the slavery days, Blacks (read: slaves) had value. No, this is more like punishment for having had the nerve to escape from the condition of slavery, which allows for no value at all. Which is worse.

Shady_Grady said...

The analogy fits perfectly.

Dan B. said...

Fred, ask yourself this. Would black people be better served from constant highlights of how racism holds them back back. Or someone like me that points out that if you work hard and do the things you are supposed to do success awaits.

Black victimization ideology is dangerous and is a main factor in the prosperity gap between whites and blacks.

chaunceydevega said...

@Dan. Now you are just playing. I must either decide if you have some moral, intellectual, or cognitive deficits which lead to your thinking on these matters, or if you are an entertainer going for ironic laughs. Which is it?

You do need to read more either way, it will help your game immensely.

Anonymous said...

Some things obviously never change. If you listen to the police tape you can hear Zimmerman call the kid a "fucking coon".

What is more disturbing is the efforts the authorities are putting into preventing Zimmerman from being prosecuted. The case attracts the attention of higher authorities and that prompts a closed grand jury hearing in order to circumvent the federal investigation. Mind you, the thought hadn't occurred to them almost a month ago.

What's amusing is, in reading the comments on other sites, whites are tripping over themselves to apply the 'one drop' rule to distance themselves from Zimmerman, or to claim that this couldn't have been about race.

Weird Beard said...

Your argument suggests that you see Black people as the problem, and you believe that if White people would show more paternal 'tough love' to Black people, then and only then will Black people learn to correct their 'problem' and better themselves.
First of all, your paternalism is obnoxious and insulting. The problem is not Black people needing 'tough love' from paternalistic Whites. The problem is a system that undeservingly benefits Whites and perpetuates White hegemony, White supremecy, and White dominance and disproportionately marginalizes, deleteriously impacts, and oppresses people of color. Such as a situation when a 14 year old Black teen gets some skittles for his little brother and ends up getting shot by some racist White dude for no reason, and there is no arrest of said White dude, or any aim for justice whatsoever without a mass public outcry.

Dan B. said...

Weird Beard: You know what happens when you assume right? Can you point out how 9-5 white people like me people benefit from "white hegemony?" Nobody has ever given me a prize for being white! What about Asians? This system you speak of doesn't exist and you know it! I fuck up at work and I'm fired. Whats my excuse? I cant cry "racism" and get a settlement + my job back. If the cops fuck me up, it will be because I had it coming, case closed, nobody will protest over my beat down or death. Do you have any more nice things to say about me? I wish to live in a truly equal society, we will never get there by blaming one society's problems on another.

chaunceydevega said...

@Dan. Me wants more! More ice cream! You are a great performer. I like this. Classic authoritarianism 101 with the 2nd string community theater. Awesome!

Dan B. said...

Thank you Mr Devega! Just a happy non threatening white racist interacting with the good people here at Respectablenegros!

Crazy Lady said...

Dan, why is your profile picture of Adolf Hitler as a child?

Just wondering. :)

Weird Beard said...

I didn’t say I assume, I said that your comment suggests, and it does. The fact that you have the luxury of believing that all of your successes and failures have nothing to do with race is a White privilege. Asians have their own situation involving the prejudice of being a “model minority”, no one assumes you know kung-fu, compliments you on your speaking English well, figures you are cheap, or a bad driver based on your race. If you are hired in at a job, no one will assume that they did it just to meet a quota based on your race, or to appear more “pc” it is assumed that you get where you get based on merit. That is a White privilege. The fact that you have the luxury of assuming your job performance evaluations have nothing to do with your race is White privilege. The fact that you don’t have to think about White privilege because it really won’t impact your life one way or another and isn’t important to you is a White privilege. Other people don’t have the luxury of assuming race doesn’t matter. You have the privilege of knowing if the cops fuck you up, it had nothing to do with your race, others don’t have that luxury. I wish to live in an equal society as well, but we will never get there by ignoring racism and prejudice and pretending like it doesn’t exist, or pretending everyone has an equal opportunity and a level playing field.

Anonymous said...

Sorry don't have a google account.

I really don't like the spin the media put on this. Black kid/white murder. This makes a big buzz, a lot bigger buzz than Black kid/Hispanic murder. In reality you are what others perceived you as, not what you want to be labelled as. Guy looks like a Mexican to me. Would this cause as much outrage? Would Jesse and Al be there for us then? Would they get as many political points?

Sometimes I feel like I'm in India. These caste system the cops are the enforcers. Keep the "unders" fighting amongst each other.
"Studies have shown that police officers that have obtained their four year bachelor degree tend to have better behavioral and performance characteristics, fewer on the job injuries and assaults, less disciplinary actions, less sick time used, greater acceptance of minorities, less citizen complaints and higher promotional aspirations." Only 1 percent of police agencies require a four-year college degree. If you want to make change start with the hired thugs, demand that your local police have an education.

Lambchopsuey said...

Dan's been getting a lot of haters, perhaps for some background I've missed, but his comments about how Zimmerman's zeal to be a cop was perhaps the determining factor in this tragedy are spot on. There is an excellent interview at http://www.ringoffireradio.com/2012/03/20/papantonio-trayvon-killer-sh ould-be-charged-with-premeditated-murder/ - it's a Florida attorney talking about this case and how familiar law enforcement is with this Zimmerman "guardian type" - "As a prosecutor, these guys show up all the time - they think they're Batman or Robin. Prosecutors have never liked this vigilante nut law ("stand your ground")...it creates a license to kill for these vigilante types...these individuals are usually unstable, they're wannabe law enforcement officers, they weren't smart enough, weren't physically capable...most of the time, this is how far it goes: You've got to look at these cats - they're wannabes, they're Walter Mitty characters who have this delusional idea about their capabilities. And they're a nuisance. They have this grandiose vision of themselves - Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood is who they think they are. ... The forensics in this case are nonexistent."

They did drug/alcohol testing on Trayvon's body - but none on his killer, who was allowed to *walk away* - WITH HIS GUN!!

Florida guidelines for licensed gun owners state: "A license to carry a concealed weapon does not make you a free-lance policeman."

There is no doubt that racism was directly involved here, but this case allows an opening to address gun control with regard to vigilantes as well as the way the police routinely mishandle cases where a minority is the victim. The attorney in the video above goes on to say that the only thing that makes sense is if Zimmerman is a police informant - that would explain why he's gotten such special treatment, but that really needs to be identified and examined. Being an informant shouldn't serve as a license to kill, either.

Lambchopsuey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Comrade Physioprof said...

Can you point out how 9-5 white people like me people benefit from "white hegemony?" Nobody has ever given me a prize for being white!

AHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!! Dude *must* be playing, because seriously.

Anonymous said...

But the shooter was Hispanic. All of your arguments are invalid in this particular case. No matter how much you want it to happen, Zimmerman will not magically become a WHITE OPRESSOR because he is LATINO!!!! guess you people really are colorblind.

Weird Beard said...

White/Hispanic/Latino, the dude still operates within a system that perpetuates White privilege, White hegemony, and White supremecy. Zimmerman is but a pawn in a greater game involving cops, a "justice system", and a nation with a history that all have power dynamics and racial interplay that enforces the 'cream rising to the top'. The real question here is why do you want to jump on any possible construal of the situation that would make it non-racial. Why do you want this not to be about race? Why are conservative television stations, journalists, bloggers, media, candidates etc. trying to say this has nothing to do with race? It's a defense mechanism and part of a White pathology that is part of the dirty water in the fishbowl of the White American psyche but can't be seen by those fish in the bowl. Only defensiveness and deflection, and no understanding of why, just towing the line and perpetuating obfuscation. Why do YOU need this not to be about race?

Comrade Physioprof said...

Zimmerman will not magically become a WHITE OPRESSOR because he is LATINO!!!!

This has nothing to do with whether Zimmerman himself is personally a "white oppressor". Rather, the question is whether Zimmerman's actions flowed from the fact of he and the victim being embedded in a racial framework of white oppression. Strangely enough, even if Zimmerman were black himself, depending on the exact circumstance, the killing could have been best understood as flowing from white oppression.

Anonymous said...

I didn't say this wasn't about race, I said he wasn't white. I grew up around a lot of minorities as an outnumbered white kid. I can tell you the blacks and Hispanics absolutely hated eachother where i grew up. I had a Latino friend Who's crime was simply walking down the street just like this kid when three black youths came up and crippled him with a baseball bat. Black kids were never prosecuted. I had to take a different rout home from school each day to avoid some black kids who didn't like me at their school simply be aide I was white. You all talk about white oppression, and ignore the fact that's it's just hate plain and simple and on every side, and even from your side. There are many African Americans who make it in this country and do well. I work with them, I hire them, I have been hired by them. They are great men and women. What do they have in common? They focus not on the struggle against oppression but on the struggle for success. They treat all men as equals and don't look with bitterness on those who's grandfathers oppressed their grandfathers. They focus on their own success instead of the obstacles. If you all want to fix something, fix the black family, the illegitimacy rate, the illiteracy of your poor. Your kids grow up dreaming of the struggle, choosing to become gangstas, listening to rap music and dealing drugs, break the very laws of this country and then view the cops as bad guys when they enforce those laws and wonder why they go to jail. You can't make it the way you want to. You have to embrace the system. If poor black kids go to school and study hard, earn that scholarship, don't drop out, work their way through college, take advantage of the programs that are there for them, they can make something great for themselves in this country. I know because those are the kind of people that I hire. Not the ones who come in, white or black, who can't read/write/speak English properly. Who have a criminal past. Who can't pass a drug test. If you want African Americans to rise up, get your kids to take seriously the 100% free education that they're offered and stay off the streets, and while you're at it repair the black sense of family so your sons grow up with fathers. You guys have way more problems than fighting what's left of racism in this country.

Weird Beard said...

1. The idea that people should strive to better themselves is not in question. It sounds like you believe in a meritocracy where everyone is in absolute control of their destiny and can rise and fall in life based on their decisions and are not hindered by any context. You seem to express that you see little racism left in this country. You also seem to express that racism is equal across the spectrum, because some people of color have committed violence against others. I understand that your life experience as a White person may support these myths. You have not been privy to situations that refute these myths flat out, over, and over, and over. That is your White privilege. Your life as a White person supports your worldview as a White person. Others have not had the same experiences as you. If you would like to learn what the world is like for other people, I would suggest you seek out alternative narratives from people not like you. Perhaps then you can understand them based on their own life experiences, as opposed to trying to apply the rules of your life experience as a White person to everyone else, and coming up with an ill-fitting match that just falls flat on its face.
2. Do you realize that you just spewed out a string of ridiculous, demeaning, and hateful stereotypes, while expressing no legitimate understanding of the complexity of the racial experience, or reality in this country whatsoever.
You know that scene in Waterboy where Bobby goes to the college and explains to the professor that "My Mama says that alligators are ornery because they got all them teeth and no toothbrush"?
That is the equivilant of what you just said. -no joke-

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Anonymous said...

There are actually two kinds of racism at work in this case:

Racist Assumption Number 1: It's ok to kill Black teenagers if you think they are up to no good, even if they aren't.

Racist Assumption Number 2: A White identified person gets the benefit of the doubt when he claims he killed someone in self-defense.

Racist Assumption Number 1 is based on a negative and hate-filled view of Black teenagers. The person making this racist assumption can be any race. They could even theoretically be Black, although that's less likely. This racist assumption is clearly the reason Trayvon was murdered. There isn't even a question.

Racist Assumption 2: This is when White privilege is extended to someone. Note that the person might be White identified in Florida, and non-White identified elsewhere. White privilege is involved because we presume if George Zimmerman were Black, he'd be cooling his heels in a jail cell, worrying about the needle. Florida is peculiar. In Miami, for instance, Cuban descended people have a status that they would not be accorded in Arizona. I think it's a question whether Zimmerman is simply being White identified or someone was pulling strings for him. However, he certainly isn't Black identified.

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