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Trayvon Martin: The Myth of US Post-Racialism

We must start connecting the dots, racism, which is alive and well in the US is very much related to Islamophobia. The tragic slaying of Trayvon Martin exemplifies the point that the USA’s original sin of “racism” is still alive and well:

Trayvon Martin: The myth of US post-racialism

(AlJazeera English) by Linda Sarsour and Khalid and Khaled Beydoun

Washington, DC – Trayvon Martin was just beginning his life. Trayvon Martin was a son. He was a high school junior, with college to look forward to, a career and perhaps a family of his own.

Trayvon Martin was many things, but for George Zimmerman, he was just Black.

The teenager’s race was enough to raise “suspicion” and trigger the neighbourhood watchman – who possessed no training or authority, except for his racist prerogatives – to murder an unarmed and frightened teenager running for his life.

On November 28, 2011, no other colour but his Blackness mattered – and his rush for safe haven was intercepted by Zimmerman, and the structurally entrenched demonisation of Black men codified in our laws, perpetuated by our police forces and subscribed to by our friends and colleagues, classmates and family members.

Trayvon Martin is not, as many writers and pundits commented following his death, “a reminder of American racism”. For Africans Americans and most people of colour, racism, xenophobia and religious animus are common, if not expected, parts of their daily lives.

In the case of Trayvon Martin, a twin set of correlated racisms prematurely ended his life: Zimmerman’s view that a young Black male must be engaged in criminal or thuggish activity by virtue of his race alone; and the neighbourhood watchmen and police alike who execute the structural racism embedded in police departments and penal systems nationwide in the name of the law.

The myth of the Obama era

The election of President Barack Obama, for white America, signalled the shift away from America’s racially charged past. After 2008, white Americans have contended that the United States is experiencing the embryonic stages of a post-racial moment; Martin’s murder is a reminder of the fatal consequences of racism that makes the headlines. Yet, the intermediary steps – the institutional racism and empowering of people like Zimmerman – to police our communities either formally or informally are not deemed newsworthy.

Racism, generally understood as a conscious perspective, action or decision, is a salient core of the US’ history and present. American racism is interwoven into the country’s narrative, codified in its law and entrenched in its institutions. Its authors and gatekeepers were, and are, still largely white.

Whites seldom experience racism, either in its fatal, frequent, or latent form. This constructs the political ideology that the rest of the US has entered this racism-free utopia. Citizenship to this colour-blind state, however, is denied to African Americans, Muslim Americans and Latinos by virtue of a triumvirate of suspicions: crime, terrorism and illegal immigration.

However, whites are not the only culprits of racism. On March 10, an Arab American gas station clerk on the Westside of Detroit gunned down and killed a 24-year-old African American customer after a dispute over the high-price of condoms. Racially charged crimes and murders between Latinos and Blacks are all too frequent, and the sometimes-explosive tension between Asian American and Arab American storeowners is well documented.

Institutional and structural racism is still robust in the US. This is evidenced by the disparate incarceration rates of brown and Black Americans, the decimation of affirmative action and race-conscious legislation in the US, the crumbling public education systems in minority-populated communities and the all too common cold blooded murders of people of colour – both in the US and beyond its boundaries, whether by policemen, neighbourhood patrolmen or soldiers.

The ‘worst of a national psychosis

Kumar Rao, a defence lawyer for the Bronx Defenders in New York City, stated that: “Martin’s killing reflects the absolute worst of a national psychosis: The view that Black males – young and old alike – are inherently threatening and unworthy of personal security; and that the state’s commitment to enduring that belief is perpetuated and institutionalised.”

Trayvon Martin’s murder was avoidable, but yet perversely justified through the cold silence of the state.

Zimmerman was a neighbourhood patrolman – not a police officer – but the distinction is thin in this instance. Some police officers, from Miami to Oakland, exhibit the same reckless and cavalier behaviour as Zimmerman. What is more troubling is that police officers and entire departments routinely cover up racially charged arrests, the roughing up of individuals under custody and operate with impunity under the cover of the law.

Yet, for Zimmerman, he had no such cover. This makes this case more absurd and baffling, particularly because he was given police orders to “discontinue his chase of Martin”, as revealed by 9/11 tapes released on March 19. If Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watchman – a volunteer with no training – had obeyed the policeman’s order, Martin would still be alive today.

Zimmerman ignored those order, and took the law into his own hands; he has still not been arrested.

The importance of Trayvon Martin’s is also based on the urgency of the current socio-political moment. The New York Police Department makes every Muslim in the City, whether Black or Arab, South Asian or Latino, targets of illegal spying or worse – unjust convictions of terrorism based solely on their religion and ethnicity. The fact that the NYPD so far as to label Black American Muslims as an “ancestry of interest” shows how far law enforcement would go to justify religious and ethnic profiling.

Connecting the dots

Arab and Muslim Americans in New York are connecting the dots – whether it is the stopping and frisking of young Black and Latino men or the illegal spying on the everyday aspects of Muslims, people of colour are being targeted by the largest police force in the country. In order to defeat the institutionalised racism of the NYPD and set a precedent for the rest of the country, we must build coalitions, connect our struggles and in unison demand accountability for our communities. None of us will win alone.

In June 2009, a Miami policeman shot and killed Husein Shehada, a 29-year-old Arab American, after an evening club-hopping with his brother and girlfriend. Shehada, like Martin, was unarmed and posed no threat. Yet, the white policeman, Adam Tavss, believed that Shehada’s ethnicity substantiated the suspicion to shoot and kill.

The value of Arab life – whether nameless Palestinian children bombed by American-funded fighter jets or American youth profiled, questioned and incarcerated for frequenting a particular mosque – is spiralling downwards rapidly in the US and at a more accelerated rate in the Arab World.

Trayvon Martin is not a martyr or a symbol of racial injustice. Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Malice Green or Ramaley Graham, are all other young African American men shot down and killed because of the colour of their skin and countless others that remain unnamed. Most recently, Troy Davis shook the nation as another victim of a broken justice system that continues to fail people of colour not one person at a time but through mass incarceration and mass conviction rates.

Trayvon Martin was his own person and an archetype of our brothers, our sons, our nephews, grandsons. Trayvon is Mohammed walking down Atlantic Avenue, vulnerable to patrolmen wary of his beard. Trayvon is Carlos, donning Dodger Blue in Pico Rivera, mistaken by the LAPD Gang Squad as a gangbanger because of the colour of his skin.

Linda Sarsour is Palestinian Muslim American, non-profit leader, public speaker and community organiser.

Follow her on Twitter: @Lsarsour

Khaled A Beydoun is a Washington, DC-based attorney and author.

Follow him on Twitter: @Legyptian


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  • dude

    the impetus for this article has been rendered irrelevant by the facts.

  • Jeremy

    this article is very poor and misinformed.

    There is zero evidence that the Trayvon Martin case is anything to do with Racism.
    First of all, Zimmerman is hispanic. He may have a lot of issues but there isn’t any evidence that racism is one of them. Also, Martin struck him in the face, jumped on top of him and started smashing his head off the ground, as per witness statements.

    He was not ordered to stop following him, he was told by the police operator “We don’t need you to do that.” But he wasn’t doing it for them, he was doing it because he thought he had discovered the suspect in the rash of breakins his neighbourhood had been through. This case is a tragedy for sure, but it isn’t racism and there is no evidence of malicious intent.

    The only racism comes from some commenters here, and the author of the article for assuming that because Zimmerman appears ‘white’ that the only explanation (in spite of all the contradictory evidence) for this is that George was a racist hunting down black people.
    This article, and a few comments here say more about racism than Zimmermans actions.

    it appears that no other colour than his supposed ‘whiteness’ matter here

  • Black Infidel

    @eslaporte: There are many police officers who are power hungry. Here in New Jersey we have quiet of few police officers who are crazy. New Jersey is high for police corruption. There are law abiding citizens who avoid certain towns be cause of these police officers.

    You might find these interesting:

    http://www.copwatch.org/copwatch_poster_regular.pdf
    http://copwatch.com/AAAindex.html
    http://policeabuse.com/

  • http://www.yellow-stars.com eslaporte

    I hope people don’t start beating up on the police and think that most officers are bad racists. This is not true. The overwhelming majority of officers do a good job in tough circumstances and are not racists. Being a police officer in America is a tough job and anyone that can put in a 20 year career is a special person.

    The only officers we hear about are those that screw up – and screwing up as a police officer can result in a lot of unwanted publicity.

    That said – I also think that we need more Muslim police officers. More Muslim Americans in policing could really be helpful in relations with Muslim communities and help in security of communities in the face of rising violence.

    Now – self defense in most American state laws involves a fear of one own life or defense of the life of another. If someone is chasing you with a knife, and you retreat to the back room and get a gun – and the fellow still comes after you after – you can (and should) defend yourself.

    What we have here is a neighborhood watch goon who thinks he’s a cop and actually chases this kid just for walking down the street. An actually police officer might have just driven on and not said anything to the kid. He might have looked at him to see if he matches the description of someone wanted for a crime. Most police know that people of all races and ages often run down the street, out jogging, perhaps to catch a bus, or late for something.

    If a crime had just occurred, it would depend on the crime (violent felony) that police would chase a suspect of foot. Here we have an untrained neighborhood watch goon that makes this judgement based on biases, and nothing more, and uses deadly force. Patrolling neighborhoods should be left up to police – not neighborhood watch goons – as police have training and department policies they follow.

    Police officers are also trained to size up situations they encounter in the course of their duties, including when they encounter people on the street.

    In police work there are “levels of force” and that depend on the resistance of the subject. Police officers carry pepper spray, tasers, baton – and firearm – on their duty belts. Even if this kid somehow had a confrontation with a police officer – the officer probably would have resorted to pepper spray and not jump into deadly force with a firearm. If Trayvon would have encountered a police officer instead of Zimmerman – he would probably be alive today…

  • MrIslamAnswersBack

    @CSD If you actually heard the phone call, the dispatchers words clearly indicated that the context was do not follow him. The actually words were ” ok, WE( the police dept.) dont need you to do that”. So please don’t make sorry excuses for the racist bastards actions. Don’t go there!

  • Glorfindel

    His family must be going through hell…such a waste.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GargamelGold?feature=mhee CriticalDragon1177

    @Emperor

    I try to look on the bright side, usually, even through I’m not the world’s biggest optimist. Racism is certainly still a problem in United States, but in-spite of this horrible crime, things have gotten better here in America when it comes to the issue of racism, overall. The murder of Trayvon Martin, may signal that we still have a long way to go, but things have gotten better. There was once a time when Obama would have stood no chance of getting elected just because of his skin tone. It may not have meant a dawning of a new post racial age, was upon us, but it was a it still was a sign that America maybe slowly moving in that direction.

  • http://www.yellow-stars.com eslaporte

    Ohhh – having lived in Florida for about 10 years, I can tell you that it’s like not living in the rest of the US. It’s like a banana republic down there folks!

    I can also tell you about the neighborhood watches in Florida, which I have always known as especially as a criminology undergrad need to be vigorously regulated! These are often made up of transplant residents of gated retiree communities and something odd happens – its probably culture shock when they move to Florida and the state is like a third world country than a tropical paradise. Neighborhood watches in Florida are in need of serious regulation to remove the nutcakes, like Zimmerman, and there are a lot of nutcakes in Florida neighborhood watches!

    Some neighborhood watch groups in Florida are aggressive, like the one where my mom lived – and I used to refer to them as “the neighborhood watch goons.” Sometimes the form cliques and exclusive little circles, and you don’t know who is a part of it. These neighborhood watch goons think they are Batman or Dirty Harry and have the powers of police.

    We used to joke that if these goons ever met a real violent felon, they’d wet their pants and have a heart attack…LOL!

    First of all, YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE BLACK to be stalked are harassed by neighborhood watch goons. Where my mom lived, I was stalked by golf-carts, as well as cars and bicycles when I used to go out jogging. When I worked as a hairdresser, I would go to my mom’s house wearing my uniform – and I’d would be followed from the main gate.

    Neighborhood watches in Florida often patrol in their cars (something they should NOT do and what Zimmerman was doing) and the goons at my mom’s house would patrol with a sign “Patrol” on the side of their car, sit at the gate and follow people they “did not like.” They tried to pick a fight with my brother for no reason!

    I know of a retiree community just north of Brooksville that bought a black can with white doors, put the words PATROL on the side with an amber light on top, like an old fashioned police car. There was another community near Zepherhills that followed a friend of mine as she drove out of the community and down to the highway, about 3 miles.

    What is really scarey is that one can carry a gun in the glove compartment in Florida without a carry permit. I used to carry one on my trips to my National Guard drills when traveling across the state (I used to own all kinds of guns). You have rednecks with shotgun racks loaded with shotguns riding around in pickup trucks. It is not hard to see how the aggression of a neighborhood watch goon can mix with the ability to carry a gun in the glove compartment.

    But – this could also be a product of how community policing is partnered up with aggressive neighborhood watch and guns. You see – under the community policing concept, FEAR is a “community harm.” When the people of a community are afraid, then the community is said to “be harmed.” Now – this fear can include irrational fears – and even fears provoked by racist stereotypes – such as the presence of young black men.

    Now – if young black men are provoking fear of a community by their mere presence – the community “is harmed” even as these fears are based on racist stereotypes. Zimmerman was afraid alright, and under concepts of community policing, he was, indeed “harmed” by Trayvon Martin’s presence.

    It’s various community policing concepts, along with aggressive “goon squad” neighborhood watches (that some police think is great) – and guns in the wrong hands – that have spawned this outrage!

  • http://www.wmonline.com BuddhaShrink

    Zimmerman wanted to be a policeman. For some reason, he did not.
    The closest he got was Neighborhood Watch. Neighborhood watch members don’t use guns while on watch and they don’t hunt other people down. They simply report suspicious activity to the police.
    Zimmerman was wrong. He tragically took the life of an inocent person.
    And as this article is pointing out, Trayvon was killed because of the color of his skin. Had Trayvon been white, he’d be alive today.
    Zimmerman, like so many, wallow in hatred and never learn the value of kindness and compassion.

  • CSD

    This statement is incorrect:

    “because he was given police orders to “discontinue his chase of Martin”

    http://www.sanfordfl.gov/investigation/docs/Zimmerman_Martin_shooting.pdf

    If Zimmerman was told not to continue to follow Trayvon, can that be considered in this investigation?
    Yes it will; however, the telecommunications call taker asked Zimmerman “are you following him”. Zimmerman replied, “yes”. The call taker stated “you don’t need to do that”. The call taker’s suggestion is not a lawful order that Mr. Zimmerman would be required to follow.

  • http://www.wmonline.com BuddhaShrink

    It is a sad story, but it is an important article and I’m glad Loon Watch shared it with us.
    The United States has miles to go before it can be described as post racial.
    Zimmerman could not see anything at all about Trayvon except for the color of his skin. Everything thing else that Zimmerman thought he saw in Trayvon was a projection: he saw himself and thought that it was Trayvon.
    Very sad indeed, and very not post racial.

  • mindy1

    This just a sad story all around :(

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