Trayvon Martin: On Trial?

It will be Trayvon Martin who will be judged in the trial, writes Eric Mann in ColorLines, not his murderer. Mann compares Trayvon's character assassination to his own experience with anti-police-brutality campaigns during the 1960s.

When I worked in the Newark Community Union Project in 1966-1968 in the city's black south and central wards, we worked on many community issues including police brutality. In each case we worked to identify the facts of the story and document the specifics of the brutality. I still remember George Richardson, a militant black political figure explaining to us his views on the realities of police brutality cases as if it was yesterday. You know, Eric, in these police brutality cases, we are always looking for the perfect black victim, the completely "innocent" black man, but he doesn't exist. In our ideal case, a white cop beats or shoots a black man and it turns out it was a black doctor walking down the street doing absolutely nothing when a white cop comes up to him and beats him badly. But that is never the way it is. The guy usually is poor or working class, has a criminal record, he was drinking, he talked back to the cop, he ran a traffic sign, he shoplifted, he 'resisted arrest', he yelled at the cop, he raised his hand whether in self-defense or even to fight back. But that has nothing to do with the fact that he was beaten half to death for being black. In every case, the black man is on trial, guilty until proven innocent and you what, for most of these folks, even our hypothetical black doctor could never been innocent enough. Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black manchild leaving a gated community and shot down in cold blood was as close in reality to that hypothetical black doctor as one can imagine, but it did not save him from an early grave.

So now, in this important test case, it's essential that the civil rights movement and organizers in communities of color put the system on trial — for this trial is not about George Zimmerman alone, but also about how a system that sanctioned the murder of an un-armed black teenager until mass national and international pressure forced a trial. We have to win the argument that there are no extenuating circumstances in the stalking and murder of unarmed black men, and while we are there, we have to win the argument that a pen, or a knife, or a shopping cart, or a parked car or "something that looked like a gun" are not lethal weapons at 15 feet, and that lethal force is not an option.


Read Eric Mann's entire piece at ColorLines.

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