25 July 2013
No Justice in the Racist Capitalist System
Avenge Trayvon Martin
“We are all Trayvon Martin!” Demonstrators march in Harlem, July 14, to protest acquittal of racist vigilante George Zimmerman who murdered Trayvon Martin.
Mobilize Workers Power to Shut Down “Stop & Frisk”!
For the Right of Armed Black Self-Defense!
The image of Trayvon Martin in his hoodie will remain forever etched in the memory of this generation of youth and many others – as were Emmett Till and Medgar Evers for earlier generations – as the symbol of unrelenting racist terror in America. We will never forget how Trayvon was lynched by a bigoted, hate-filled vigilante, for the “crime” of walking while black. And then again in the courts where prosecution, defense, judge and jury worked together to produce a legal lynching.
“The whole damn system is guilty” chant demonstrators at protests around the country. Damn right, and that system is capitalism. As capitalist politicians seek to exploit his memory to push their reactionary agendas, Trayvon’s legacy to us is the challenge to bury this inhuman regime that produces endless poverty, racism and war. We the working people and oppressed, without whose labor the system could not function, are its gravediggers. Our task is to fight for workers revolution to avenge Trayvon and all the victims of racist terror.
When Trayvon Martin was murdered in Sanford, Florida in February of last year at the age of 17 by racist vigilante and wannabe cop George Zimmerman, a wave of anger swept the country as millions expressed their outrage. Black families felt a cold chill, fearing that their son or brother could be next to die. Then, when Zimmerman was declared “not guilty” on July 13 after a grotesque parody of a trial, in which Trayvon was murdered all over again, tens of thousands took to the streets to protest the racist verdict.
Across the U.S., young people, older people, black, white, Latino came out to denounce this abomination. The day after the verdict was announced, thousands marched in New York City stopping traffic and shutting down Times Square shouting, “We are all Trayvon Martin.” As some continued north to Harlem, police arrested 14. In Los Angeles protesters occupied the Interstate 10 freeway and then marched onto Crenshaw Boulevard where L.A. police shot into the crowd with rubber bullets. A week later, protests were held in over 100 cities nationwide.
You couldn’t miss the message sent by the acquittal in the Florida trial. A racist killer stalks and murders an unarmed black teenager walking home with a soft drink and candy, and the killer gets away with it: this is a declaration of open season on young African American men. Young people came forward to make their first speech in public, saying “I feel like this puts a bulls-eye right on my back.” Many felt it in their gut: the verdict is an indictment of a racist injustice system that sends millions of black youth to prison while letting racist murderers go free.
At New York’s Union Square on Sunday, July 14, protesters joined the Internationalist contingent in chanting “Trayvon’s dead, Zimmerman’s free, that’s what they call democracy.” And again the next day as we marched on the courts at Foley Square chanting, “Racist system – another black victim.” At a rally on 125th Street in Harlem, people expressed their appreciation for Internationalist Group signs saying “Stop Racist Murder from Afghanistan to Florida and N.Y.” and “Stop and Frisk = American Apartheid.”
Anticipating an explosion of anger, police from New York to California were in full riot mode. President Barack Obama issued a statement saying “we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.” But people wouldn’t shut up. After nights of angry protest in black areas of Oakland and Los Angeles, Obama went before television cameras, again calling to accept the jury’s verdict, adding “that’s how our system works.” But this time he spoke in personal terms of the experience of young black men facing hostility and suspicion.
Many older African Americans said they appreciated the recognition from the White House of the continuing painful reality of what Obama timidly called “racial disparities.” Even as he claimed “things are getting better,” despite all evidence to the contrary, he was forced to admit “It doesn’t mean that we’re in a postracial society,” as was widely proclaimed following the election of the first black president. But this kind of “I feel your pain” talk reminiscent of Bill Clinton left even many of his supporters dissatisfied.
Obama was right about one thing: “that’s how our system works” – the murderous system he represents and presides over. In this case, even a liberal black commentator like Charles Blow has to admit that “The Whole System Failed Trayvon Martin” (New York Times, 16 July). But what is that system? Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law wasn’t even used in this case, while police procedure and rigged court proceedings are only part of it. It was racist American capitalism that lynched Trayvon, and then lynched him again in the courtroom.
From the time of slavery, the bedrock on which it was founded, the U.S. capitalist economy has claimed countless black lives and will continue to do so until it is swept away. The Supreme Court’s cancellation last month of the key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, part of a general rolling back of the limited gains of the civil rights movement, is part of that system. So is the municipal bankruptcy of black Detroit, principally the result of the closure of the auto plants in the 1980s, leading to mass unemployment of black workers and vast population loss.
Speaking for the IG at the July 14 Harlem rally, Charlie Morán, an immigrant worker, said a TV reporter had questioned our sign saying “Trayvon Martin Was Lynched – No Justice in the Capitalist Courts.” Voices in the crowd exclaimed, “Yes!” One cried out, “that’s what they’re doing to black boys.” Our comrade continued:
“No question about it, legal lynching is what this is all about, in the U.S.A., and it has been for the past three hundred years. Even if we have a black president in the White House, nothing has changed. Democrats, Republicans, they’re not friends of the working class, they’re not friends of Latinos, of black people. Also Mumia Abu-Jamal is still in prison. He was 30 years on death row. We need to mobilize power, the power of the working class to stop this legal lynching, to stop the murder of our black brothers and sisters, of our Latino brothers and sisters.”
At the same rally, Sándor John, speaking on behalf of the CUNY Internationalist Clubs, recalled the 1857 Dred Scott case, of a slave who was taken to a so-called “free state” and then sued for his freedom:
“The Supreme Court not only said it was ruling against him, but he had no right to sue in the courts. Those Supreme Court lynchers in black robes said, and I quote, that black men had ‘no rights which the white man was bound to respect.’ Trayvon Martin’s case shows that this is still true today. And it will be true until we overthrow this capitalist system.”
Racist Vigilante, Racist Police, Racist Town, Racist Courts
Demonstrators block Interstate 10 freeway next to Crenshaw area of Los Angeles, July 14 demanding justice for Trayvon Martin.
At the trial and in recent coverage in the “mainstream” (bourgeois) media, there has been a cover-up of the racism of the killer vigilante. When the 911 tapes of Zimmerman’s call-in to the police were released, everyone could hear him saying that his prey was “suspicious,” “up to no good,” “on drugs or something.” He complained that “these assholes always get away,” adding under his breath, “f---king punks.” But more than just profiling anyone who in his fevered brain looked like a “bad guy,” Zimmerman has it in for African American men.
In our earlier article (“Lynch Law U.S.A.: State Defends Murderer of Trayvon Martin,” The Internationalist, May 2012), we noted the killer’s frequent 911 calls about “suspicious” black people (46 calls in the previous 15 months). The Miami Herald (13 March 2012) reported that “Zimmerman went door-to-door asking residents to be on the lookout, specifically referring to young black men who appeared to be outsiders.” A black resident said he “fit the stereotype that [Zimmerman] emailed around,” so he just stayed in his house for fear of being chased.
The Sanford police, who eagerly bought Zimmerman’s lies that he killed Martin in self-defense and let the killer walk, are also notorious for a racist double standard. Black residents said distrust of the police “had been fueled by what they described as mistreatment and the agency’s failure to thoroughly investigate the shooting deaths of many young black men” (New York Times, 17 June). Like in 2010 when the Sanford police waited seven weeks to arrest a lieutenant’s son who beat up a homeless man, Zimmerman was not charged for 44 days after killing Trayvon.
Resentment of the police is natural, given the town’s segregationist past. “This has been a slave town forever,” a resident told the new black police chief brought in to ease tensions. There was once a black town next door, Goldsboro, until Sanford took it over in 1911. For decades, Sanford was a “sundown town,” where African Americans were forbidden to live, facing violence and even lynching if caught there after dark. In 1946, Jackie Robinson was driven out of town by death threats when he arrived for spring training with the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league team.
Yet although race and racism were at the heart of the stalking and murder of a 17-year-old black youth by a white vigilante, none of this came up in the trial. Trial judge Debra Nelson ruled out any mention of “racial profiling,” even though the charge was second-degree murder, which is defined as killing with spite, hatred or ill will. And even though tapes of Zimmerman’s 911 calls about suspicious persons were admitted as evidence, 100% complaining about blacks, the prosecution never used them and never referred to his blatant racial profiling in its closing arguments.
While the state deliberately ducked the issue of racism, leaving even some bourgeois media incredulous, Zimmerman’s counsel Mark O’Mara is a foaming racist who tried every smear and distortion he could get away with to put the victim on trial. Portraying Trayvon as a violent aggressor, he used a foam dummy as a stand-in for Zimmerman, crushing it with his large body, and raining blows on it, cracking its head repeatedly on the imaginary concrete, supposedly representing the 158-pound Trayvon Martin pummeling 250-pound George Zimmerman!
This fictional display purported to show what might have happened to produce the supposed scratches on Zimmerman’s head shown in “enhanced” (i.e., doctored) photographs, which a medical examiner dismissed as “very insignificant.” Yet this surreal outrage was permitted by the judge and not objected to by the prosecution. When Rachel Jeantel testified about her phone conversation with Trayvon as he was trying to get away from Zimmerman, she clearly had not been prepared by the prosecution and was then ridiculed by the defense (and on the Internet).
The special prosecutor in the Zimmerman case, Angela Corey, also prosecuted a black woman, Marissa Alexander, who got 10-20 years in prison for firing a pistol in the air trying to ward off her dangerous husband, against whom she had a restraining order. Yet white vigilante Zimmerman kills an innocent black youth and goes free. The jury, too, was racist, and had not one African American among the six women. That alone is prima facie evidence of discrimination in a city that is 30 percent black. But the state accepted this outrage.
During the impaneling, when one potential juror said Trayvon should not have been out at night, reflecting racist opinion in this “sundown town,” the judge overruled the prosecution’s objection and seated her. Another juror, B37, called the peaceful protests over the killing “riots,” yet she was seated without objection from the state. After the verdict, B37 told journalist Anderson Cooper that Zimmerman was driven to kill by “vandalism,” that he “profiled” Trayvon because of his hoodie, and that Trayvon as well was “responsible” for his own death.
Throughout, not only did the prosecution avoid the key issues and really damning evidence against Zimmerman, it made so many “mistakes” that the inescapable conclusion is that it never tried to win the case. Instead of hammering at Zimmerman’s use of cop talk calling Martin “the suspect,” the prosecution dropped it when an officer said it didn’t bother her. When another cop testified that he found Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense believable, which is inadmissible as it is up to the jury to decide on credibility, the prosecution let it pass.
The fact is that the state never wanted this case, taking six weeks to charge Zimmerman with anything, and only sought to appease the outcry. Lead prosecutor Corey, appointed after weeks of massive protests, said as much following the verdict: “What we promised to do was get this case in front of a jury, and give Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman their day in court.” How wonderfully even-handed! Of course, there is a difference: Trayvon is dead and never got to speak, while his murderer (whose lies were repeated by all sides) is free.
In fact, George Zimmerman was not really put on trial, Trayvon Martin was. All parties in this travesty of a trial (defense, police, judge, prosecution and jury) worked together to convict the innocent, unarmed black youth of his own death and to absolve the killer who was guilty as hell of first-degree (premeditated) murder. Of course, police gun down African Americans and Latinos with impunity all the time. The only reason there was even a mock trial here was due to protests, and because sectors of the ruling class want to reinforce the state’s monopoly of armed force.
Gun Control Kills Blacks
Thousands marched on Times Square in New York City July 14 to protest not guilty verdict.
And after the verdict, they’re still at it. The bourgeois liberal establishment is trying to channel outrage into a campaign against Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law” and similar statutes everywhere. And since that law was never invoked in this trial, they claim it “colored” the proceedings and take aim at the right of self-defense generally. “Certainly it [the Zimmerman case] is about race,” admits a New York Times (15 July editorial), even though that subject was banned from the trial. But what’s key, it argues, is to get guns out of the hands of the populace.
The population – black, white or other – would then be left defenseless, while in fact it is the police who gun down far, far more black and Latino young men than vigilantes. Obama remarked in his July 19 appearance before the TV cameras, “I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman?” Our answer is Trayvon was being stalked by a racist potential killer who was armed and dangerous, and if the hunted youth feared for his life and was armed, he would absolutely have been justified in shooting Zimmerman.
In that case it is virtually certain that the black youth would be tried and convicted of murder, no matter what the law, because of the pervasive racism of American society. As for a supposed “duty to retreat,” if Trayvon had sought to flee it’s a good bet that Zimmerman would have put a bullet in his back. This case was never about self-defense, it was a cold-blooded execution. The killer got out of his vehicle with his gun to make sure that this “punk” didn’t “get away.” Facing threatening racists, any black person anywhere has the right of self-defense.
Liberals, black and white, call on people to “retreat” and ramp up calls for tighter gun control while Trayvon has been demonized in the trial and the press for seeking to defend himself against a racist vigilante. As we have stressed before, gun control kills blacks (see “Who Controls the Guns?” The Internationalist No. 34, March-April 2013). Malcolm X was more than right when he said black people have the right to defend themselves “by any means necessary.” We noted in our earlier article about Trayvon Martin:
“[T]o call for the capitalist state to control firearms … is to suggest that the police are or could somehow be neutral or even favorable to the black, Latino, Asian and immigrant population when they are in fact the greatest force of oppression. From the White Citizens Councils of the 1960s to ‘community watch’ groups today, vigilantes get their power from their connection to the state. And following the Monroe, North Carolina NAACP and Bogalusa, Louisiana Deacons for Defense1 in the 1950s and ’60s, to fight them we stand for the right of black armed self-defense.”
Currently Democrat Jesse Jackson is calling to boycott all things Florida to induce the state legislature to overturn the “Stand Your Ground” law, while Democrat Al Sharpton is calling to put pressure on the Justice Department to charge Zimmerman with civil rights violations. These are deliberate attempts to divert protest away from the struggle against racist terror, which is centrally the work of the police, and to channel anger into support for the Obama administration. This will do nothing to win justice for Trayvon Martin and will likely lead to a demoralizing dead end.
Calling on Democrat Obama, the commander-in-chief of murderous U.S. imperialism – who wants NYPD chief Ray (“Stop and Frisk”) Kelly to head the Homeland Security department and who has called to accept the verdict of the Florida trial – to bring federal charges against Zimmerman is not just a diversion but downright ludicrous. Moreover, the law itself and the courts’ current interpretation of everything from busing for school integration and “affirmative action” programs to the voting rights law would make it practically impossible to convict without an explicit statement of racist intent by Zimmerman.
Already in 2010, Obama’s Justice Department announced it was not bringing federal charges against the murderous NYPD cops who gunned down Sean Bell in a hail of 50 bullets on his wedding morning in 2006. (As a candidate Barack Obama in 2008 also called to “respect the verdict” of the judge who absolved the killer cops.) Nor have the feds taken any action on flagrant frame-up of the Central Park Five, railroaded to jail for 14 years on bogus rape charges amid a media-induced racist hysteria. One of the Five, Kharey Wise, spoke at the July 14 Harlem protest.
What Is to Be Done?
Internationalist contingent in march on Foley Square in New York, July 15.
The lesson is reaching quite a few people that “black faces in high places” change nothing essential about how this country operates. So now we have a black president in the highest place in American politics. Yet as an older African American demonstrator told The Internationalist at a July 20 NYC rally at 1 Police Plaza: “Obama’s talking about people’s sons and all the while his drones are killing dark-skinned children in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” while “here we are in the shadow of this huge perpetrator of death” against black people in New York, the NYPD.
Around the corner stand the massive court buildings in Foley Square where radical lawyer Lynne Stewart was effectively condemned to die in prison. Meanwhile, Obama’s government wages a deadly vendetta against Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden for telling the truth about U.S. war crimes and massive spy-agency surveillance. Yet at a protest rally on July 15, a leader of the Workers World Party (WWP) called to hold Obama’s top cop Eric Holder to his word about a federal investigation. In response to this and chants of “No justice, no peace,” Class Struggle Education Workers activist Marjorie Stamberg remarked:
“There is no justice in this system. We only have faith in our own independent organizing of the working class and the oppressed. We’re the ones who have the power – TWU, UFT, 1199, all the unions of the working people, the students, the parents, all of us, we have the power to stop the wheels of production. We need a revolution, a workers revolution – that is how we are going to get justice for Trayvon Martin and all the victims of this racist capitalist system.”
If the job of the black Democrats and the liberal civil rights establishment is to patch up illusions in the racist injustice system, opportunist left groups see their task as tailing after those same forces. Various pseudo-socialist groups are a bit queasy about openly calling for gun control, knowing full well it would strengthen the cops. So the WWP and the International Socialist Organization call for support to the Dream Defenders, a largely black and Latino youth group that has occupied the Florida governor’s office and which joins the liberal Democrats in calling for repeal of “Stand Your Ground” and to reform police procedures.
Given the depth of the anger, some left groups have struck a more radical posture than usual. Thus Workers World (25 July) headlines, “No justice for Trayvon Martin? No peace for capitalist system!” trying to give a leftist spin to Sharpton’s “no justice, no peace” slogan. But what does this mean in practice? The answer: “While fighting for a socialist future is the goal of many revolutionaries, we must continue to monitor how the current righteous anger over the Zimmerman verdict will play out in the coming days, weeks and months and strategize on how best to help channel this righteous anger into a broad, organized fightback.” Translation: stay tuned, WWP is figuring out how to build another of its endless “coalitions” with Democrats (the People’s Power Assemblies being the current favorite).
The Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) has been popularizing the slogans “the whole damn system is guilty” and “revolution, nothing less.” But the RCP is cagey about what that system is: since their political strategy is to ally with liberals who might be scared off by too-strident denunciations of capitalism. In line with liberal “discourse” they talk of white supremacy in terms of ideology and discrimination, separate from the material roots of black oppression. As for the “revolution,” that boils down to “getting into BA,” meaning Bob Avakian Thought, the pompous declamations of a megalomaniacal Stalinist-cultist jerk. The radical rhetoric masks what is at bottom warmed-over liberal idealism.
The oppression of African Americans is not due to the undifferentiated domination of white people in general, or simply the result of racist ideas. The ideology of racism emerged from the material oppression of the black population, going back to slavery and continuing – as Northern capitalists came to terms with their Southern brethren, betraying the Civil War’s promise of black freedom – to the present day. It is the product of capitalist rule which can only survive by dividing the working class and all the exploited, conceding a few privileges to petty-bourgeois and “labor-aristocratic” sectors, and then using those to foster massive racism. This poisonous false consciousness must be fought wherever it appears, but it can only be eliminated through multiracial class struggle and sweeping away its material basis by workers revolution.
Both liberals and many self-proclaimed socialists and communists have dealt with the effects of black oppression, raising an exclusively democratic program to eliminate discrimination without touching the fundamentals of capitalism which forcibly confine the descendants of slaves to the bottom of U.S. society. Yet every time there has been an advance in democratic rights, sooner or later a new mechanism of subordination is instituted. After the abolition of slavery in the Civil War, the brief democratic period of Radical Reconstruction was soon replaced by rigid “Jim Crow” segregation, which lasted almost a century, up until the 1960s.
When the segregationist Southern laws were overturned as the result of the mass social struggle of the Civil Rights movement, this did not change the hard realities for black residents of the impoverished ghettos of the North, where inequality was not de jure but written into the economic laws of capitalist society. When the ghettos erupted in massive upheavals, these were put down with military force, and soon the racist capitalist rulers hit on a new method of keeping the black people down. A petty-bourgeois layer would be fostered and even a tiny black bourgeois elite, epitomized by Obama, while the mass of poor blacks, particularly young black men, would be criminalized.
This has led to a huge expansion of the prison system, currently holding 2.4 million prisoners (plus tens of thousands of immigrants in concentration camps awaiting deportation), while millions more ex-prisoners are denied basic rights. This diabolical system, in which up to a third of young black men are in prison, on parole or probation, was particularly aided by racist anti-drug laws. The basic purpose is social control. As Michelle Alexander writes in her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New Press, 2012):
“[T]he most important parallel between mass incarceration and Jim Crow is that both have served to define the meaning and significance of race in America. Indeed, a primary function of any racial caste system is to define the meaning of race in its time. Slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave), and Jim Crow defined what it meant to be black (second class citizen). Today Mass Incarceration defines the meaning of blackness in America: black people, especially black men, are criminals. That is what it means to be black.”
In today’s America, the more enlightened bourgeois ideologists admit that race is a social construction, not a biological reality, at the same time as they argue as if race is some kind of eternal category that “causes” racial oppression. For Marxists, Alexander’s observation underscores the bitter fact that since black oppression is part of the material reality of capitalism in this country, the ruling class has repeatedly found new forms of control and subjugation of the African American population, whose struggle for genuine liberation proves, time and again, to be incompatible with a society based on exploitation.
A working-class fight against the criminalization of black and Latino youth is urgently needed. That includes mobilizing the power of labor, African Americans, Latinos and all defenders of democratic rights to shut down the police practice of racial profiling known as “stop and frisk” which has led to 4 million arbitrary searches of New Yorkers. The racist intent of this policy is so blatant that even though 87 percent of those stopped are black and Latino, plutocrat mayor Bloomberg complains that not enough blacks and Latinos were stopped!
A small taste of workers action against racist police terror occurred in October 2010 when Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shut down the port of Oakland, California for a day to protest the slap-on-the-wrist manslaughter conviction of transit cop Johannes Mehserle who murdered young black worker Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009 (see “ILWU Shuts Ports Demanding Justice for Oscar Grant,” Revolution No. 8, April 2011).
A film about the Oscar Grant murder (Fruitvale Station) was released in the very week that George Zimmerman was acquitted, heightening the sense of outrage in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere . Hopefully protests over the racist lynching of Trayvon Martin will continue. Yet to have an effect, the key is the political direction and leadership of such protests. As Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton push gun control, various reformist groups that call themselves socialist seek liberal allies by calling (as does Michelle Alexander) for a “new civil rights movement.” This will solve nothing – the old civil rights movement came to a dead end precisely because, in accepting the limits of capitalist society and reform politics, it could not rip out the roots of black oppression.
In a classic example of this kind of dead-end perspective, some black nationalist and liberal groups have joined with Jesse Jackson in appealing to “Boycott Florida,” as if not buying Florida orange juice would change anything. This also presumes the problem is just Florida, when the point is that in NYC and the Northeast as well as the Deep South, the Midwest and everywhere else in this country, racist oppression and terror are the norm, not the exception. So what is the population to do, boycott everything in the country: no more California grapes, Iowa corn or Kansas wheat?
The legal lynching of Trayvon Martin is the system functioning as it is supposed to. The fundamental task of the courts and cops is to maintain and defend the property and power of the social class that owns this society: the capitalists. To unleash the power of the working class that can bury capitalism requires a political struggle to free labor, blacks and all the oppressed from the shackles chaining them to the Democratic Party and to build the nucleus of a multiracial revolutionary workers party.
As one of the Internationalist speakers at the July 14 Harlem rally said:
“I want to be frank here. It’s not just Florida. What about Ramarley Graham, where was he? In this city. What about Abner Louima? Tortured by the police, by the racist NYPD. What about Amadou Diallo? What about Alberta Spruill? What about Sean Bell? What about Anthony Baez? It’s not just Florida, it’s not just the Deep South, it’s not just Up South up here, it’s all around this country. So we need to mobilize a greater power than their power of terror, and their dirty imperialist wars, and their filthy racist murder machine, whether they be in white sheets, blue uniforms or the black robes of the of the Supreme Court of death. That power is the power of the working class, to overthrow this racist capitalist system. Only then will we begin to get justice.” ■