‘We are all Trayvon Martin’ – Horace Campbell on racism and the US criminal justice system

Horace Campbell

Writing on ZNet, Horace Campbell, author of Barack Obama and Twenty-First-Century Politics, argues that the killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin exposes the deep-seated racism which still exists in US society and parts of the criminal justice system. Campbell provides a chilling account of how Trayvon was killed:

On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Florida High School student was shot and killed in a gated community in Florida. Gated communities abound in areas such as Florida where the protection of private property is more important than human lives. George Zimmerman, the killer, claimed that he shot Trayvon in self-defense. Zimmerman, 28, a self -appointed neighborhood watch captain is more than ten years older and weighs 80 pounds(about 30 kilos) more that Trayvon Martin. The police first took him into custody but at the direction of the prosecutor failed to book him. Zimmerman was not arraigned nor administered a drug or alcohol test. They also did not run a background check on Zimmerman.

Trayvon was in this community, the Retreat of Twin Lakes, to visit his father. He had gone to the neighborhood store to purchase skittles (candy) and a drink and was walking back to the abode of his father. This was when Zimmerman saw the teenager.

Campbell looks at the wider context, in particular the controversial ‘Stand Your Ground’ law:

Hate groups and hate crimes are on the increase since the election of Barack Obama with these hate crimes increasing from 608 in 2000 to 1,018 in 2011.These crimes have been backed up by the polluted atmosphere of the conservatives where racist demagoguery has been employed to justify police and vigilante-style violence, culminating in the passage of legislation like Florida’s notorious “Stand Your Ground” law and similar laws in over 17 other states. Characteristically, it was under the conservative Governorship of Jeb Bush when the state of Florida in 2005 passed a broad “stand your ground” law, which allows Florida residents to use deadly force against a threat without attempting to back down from the situation.

A 2010 study by the Tampa Bay Times found that “justifiable homicides” had tripled in the state since the law went into effect. These laws sanction the use of deadly force in public places by individuals if they have a “reasonable fear” that an assailant could seriously harm them or someone else.

Campbell concludes by highlighting how, despite the gains of formal legal equality, racism is still endemic in US society and institutions:

Today, walking while black is a hazard and in spaces such as New York City 90 per cent of those who are stopped and frisked are young black and brown peoples. This racial profiling and ‘the war on drugs’ ensured that one in three black persons in the US under 25 will become enmeshed in the courts, prison or post prison experience. Of all U.S. prisoners, about 67% are people of color, although people of color make up only about 30% of the U.S. population. The United States imprisons more persons per capita than any other society on earth. Black men and women are disproportionately held within the system of courts, prisons, surveillance.

Institutionalized racism ensured that in every area of social engagement- housing, education, employment, health, and police interface- black and Latino people were worse off than in the period of the Civil Rights revolution. Conservative public policy under successive governments rolled back social programs as neo-liberalism gave more support to racists.

Visit ZNet to read the article in full.

Barack Obama and Twenty-First-Century Politics

A Revolutionary Moment in the USA

Horace G. Campbell

An essential guide to the new political moment indicated by the new networks created in Barack Obama’s revolutionary election campaign.

“This book helps us recognise that we are living in a revolutionary moment. … We need to develop new consciousness … and become active in new political sites where people are creating a participatory democracy in struggles for life, education, health and community.
– Grace Lee Boggs, author, anti-racism activist and feminist

“Barack Obama’s presidency provides a rare opening for change. Whether we make use of it as we should is up to us. … Campbell’s book is a bracing reminder of all the threads of history woven into this extraordinary moment, a warning about the military and financial forces trying to keep things as they are, and an inspiration to work for the very different world that could be within our grasp.” – Adam Hochschild, writer and journalist, co-founder of Mother Jones magazine and author of King Leopold’s Ghost (2006)

£17.99 only £16.00 on the Pluto site

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