A verdict of “not guilty” for George Zimmerman, the white neighborhood watch volunteer who murdered black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012, was met with outrage in cities across the US.
Zimmerman plead not guilty to murdering the unarmed teenager and maintained that he had acted in self-defense. This ridiculous defence was only successful because of the racism that pervades the US justice system.
Zimmerman’s lawyers painted Martin as a thug, playing on racist cliches of black men, and presenting to the jury an image of someone that Zimmerman was entirely justified in fearing.
That it was Zimmerman who had stalked Martin—who was walking home with iced tea and Skittles—instigated the confrontation and carried a concealed weapon didn’t matter.
In the end the verdict was clear: Martin was guilty of walking while black.
The day after the aquittal, rallies took place across the US.
Thousands gathered in New York City. People’s outrage and frustration was palpable. The march spontaneously took to the streets, stopping traffic and chanting, “If we don’t get no justice, they don’t get no peace!” and “Hey hey ho ho, the new Jim Crow has got to go!”
Drivers honked in support, took placards to hang in their windshields, and the march doubled in size. When police tried to block the way, protesters barged through their lines, chanting, “Whose streets! Our streets!”
The march finished with an occupation of Times Square, where speakers addressed the need to take the struggle against racism and the racist justice system forward.
The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) is calling for a federal civil rights investigation against Zimmerman. Activists are also calling for the scrapping of New York’s “stop and frisk” laws that permit police to search individuals at random, and which have entrenched racial profiling in the NYPD. Eighty seven per cent of the people detained under the laws are black and Latino.
In Florida, where Martin was murdered, and several other New York states, activists are calling for the removal of Stand Your Ground Laws, a type of self-defense law that gives individuals the right to use force to defend themselves. These laws allowed Zimmerman to be acquirred. In fact, white people who kill black people in states with Stand Your Ground laws are 354 per cent more likely to have authorities find their homocide justified than the other way around.
By James Robertson, in New York