Op-Ed: Justice for Trayvon Martin: Fight the Zimmerman Mindset

Keegan O’Brien
Photo: Paul Weiskel

By: Keegan O’Brien*/Special to TRT—

Only in a country as racist as the United States could a grown adult racially profile, hunt down, and murder an unarmed black 17 year old boy—and get away with it. George Zimmerman’s trial revealed to the world what Black America has known for far too long; that in America, black lives don’t matter. But this time, people have refused to remain silent. The murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman have produced an explosion of anger and protests, forcing politicians, the mainstream media, and even the president, to engage in an explicit and rare conversation about race and racism today.

The first statement from the Obama administration was insulting; it ignored race completely while asking people to respect the jury and remain calm. But following Zimmerman’s “not guilty” verdict thousands took to the streets to express their outrage.  The following weekend, in over a hundred cities, thousands poured into the streets again to demand the federal government take action. As a result of continuous pressure, President Obama, for the first time in his five years in office, went on national television and spoke honestly about racism and the Trayvon Martin case. 

George Zimmerman’s trial revealed to the world what Black America has known for far too long; that in America, black lives don’t matter.

Obama’s words are refreshing compared to the total neglect these issues have received from politicians and the mainstream media, and have emboldened many to feel legitimate and justified in their anger. But, politically opportunistic rhetoric designed to placate people’s outrage and desire for change  will not challenge the institutions and polices, which have created and continue to perpetuate the Zimmerman mindset that lead to Trayvon’s killing, and so many others like him.

According to Florida’s judicial system and many political commentators, race was not a factor in Zimmerman’s case. Zimmerman never explicitly mentioned race, he followed Martin because he was suspicious looking, not because he was black. But, this line of argument completely misunderstands the operation of racism in 21st century “color-blind” America. Today, we rarely witness the same kind of explicit, white hood wearing, troglodyte, anti-black racism that existed fifty years ago. Instead, racism is coded, concealed, and packaged into formally “color-blind” language and policies. So, although Zimmerman never said that he followed Martin because he was black (that would be considered racist), it was definitely an operating subconscious factor. The well-known truth is that if Trayvon Martin had been white, it is very likely he’d still be alive today. Race has everything to do with this case.

Take for example the highly controversial and now widely debated “Stand Your Ground” law, a policy that doesn’t mention race explicitly at all. But, when you examine the application and interpretation of the law, there emerges an undeniable pattern of racial biases. There are two cases everyone concerned about Trayvon Martin should know about, Marissa Alexander and CeCe McDonald. 

Instead, racism is coded, concealed, and packaged into formally “color-blind” language and policies. So, although Zimmerman never said that he followed Martin because he was black (that would be considered racist), it was definitely an operating subconscious factor. 

Marissa Alexander is an African American woman and mother who fired a warning shot into her ceiling to prevent her abusive ex-boyfriend from attacking her. Instead of being granted the right to stand her ground and defend herself, the state of Florida sentenced her to twenty years in prison in 2012. CeCe McDonald is a young black transgender woman who defended herself against a hate crime from a white supremacist in Minneapolis and as a result faced the rest of her life in prison. Thankfully, instead of serving a natural life sentence, CeCe was offered a plea and given forty-two months in prisons. Although she deserves to be spending zero time behind bars, CeCe’s reduced sentenced was the direct result of an international pressure campaign launched by her supporters.

A recent study showed that in states with “Stand Your Ground” laws, white people were more than 300 times more likely to get away with killing a black person.  So, if you murder an unarmed black teenager; no problem. But, if you’re a black trans woman who defends herself against a hate crime, or a mother who defends herself against a violent partner, or God forbid, a black man defending yourself against racist cops; tough luck. The message is clear; the right to “Stand Your Ground” doesn’t apply equally to everyone, because black lives do not matter.

One important question Trayvon Martin’s case raises is; how on earth could a grown adult be acquitted for profiling, stalking down, and murdering and unarmed black teenager? While Zimmerman pulled the trigger that took Trayvon Martin’s life, it was our racist society that socialized him to believe it was okay to view Trayvon as a criminal, hunt him down, and murder him; it was our society that told the Sanford police department it was okay to mark Trayvon Martin as a John Doe and test his dead body for drugs while they let Zimmerman walk free for forty six days. And, as horrific as Zimmerman’s actions were, they aren’t rare. Police officers in cities across the country profile, harass, brutalize, and even kill people of color, particularly black men, every single day. Should the fact that these men and women are armed and authorized by the state make their actions any more justifiable? Absolutely not. 

The well-known truth is that if Trayvon Martin had been white, it is very likely he’d still be alive today. Race has everything to do with this case.

This Zimmerman mindset has been produced by the corporate media and political establishment to justify and legitimize three decades of; racially charged “get tough” on crime laws and the war on drugs (essentially a war on poor people and people of color who use drugs), which have turned Black and brown communities into sites of police occupation, and a prison industrial complex and system of mass incarceration that have swept millions of black and brown people into cages while devastating communities of color. This matrix of laws and institutions is what civil rights attorney and author Michelle Alexander has termed “the New Jim Crow.”

While Zimmerman deserves punishment for his horrible crime, so do the countless police officers who’ve committed the same atrocities, but have never been held accountable Ultimately, it is the Zimmerman mindset—the widely held and normalized belief that black men are a threat requiring policing, incarceration, or even death—and the institutions, policies, and lawmakers that have perpetuated this out look, that deserves to put on trial.

Why should the LGBTQ community concern itself with issues of racial justice and a case such as Trayvon Martin’s? Firstly, because much of our community is people of color and for them these fights are inseparable. Secondly, as a community that is continuing to fight for our most basic civil rights, we have an obligation and reasonability to stand by those who are continuing to struggle for theirs. Lastly, our capacity to fight and our potential to win is dramatically increased when we overcome the divisions fostered between us and champion the struggles of other oppressed community—it’s called solidarity.

So what can we, as an LGBTQ community, do to show our support for Trayvon Martin and the broader fight for racial justice? Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, the NAACP, ACLU, American Federation of Teachers, and a host of other civil rights and labor organizations are continuing the fight for Trayvon Martin by calling for a national demonstration in Washington D.C. on August 24th , the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Protesters will be demanding the Department of Justice prosecute Zimmerman and that the federal government seriously begins to tackle the range of injustices—from racial profiling to mass incarceration—that Black America continues to experience. August 24th will likely be one of the largest demonstrations for civil rights and racial justice in decades. 

A recent study showed that in states with “Stand Your Ground” laws, white people were more than three hundred times more likely to get away with killing a black person.

While a single protest won’t dismantle the prisons system over night, the August 24th March on Washington will contribute tremendously to forcing this conversation about racism in America today back to where it belongs—in the political mainstream. Secondly, it will be a crucial moment in the development a nation-wide movement against racial profiling, and all the injustices of the New Jim Crow and Mass Incarceration. Why does this matter? Because it has been grassroots activism and pressure from below that have pushed those in power, such as President Obama, to even shine the spotlight on these issues.  What we’ve been doing has started to work, we better keep it up. August 24th, Washington D.C.; because if you want to live in a world where there will never be another Trayvon Martin, CeCe McDonald, or Marissa Alexander, you’ve got a responsibility to join thousands of people—black and white, queer and straight, young and old—in Washington D.C. on August 24th. A better world is possible, but it’s up to us to fight for it.

*Keegan O’Brien is a long time LGBTQ youth activist in Boston, anti-war organizer, a student at UMass Boston, a former board member of BAGLY, and member of the International Socialist Organization in Boston. He also has written extensively on LGBTQ social justice websites.

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  1. Warrington Carter says:

    Only in America can liberals pretend that Trayvon was anything other than a thug. Only in America can liberals pretend that Zimmerman is white. Only in America can liberals whine about a neighborhood watchman acting in self defense. Only in America can the media use said instance of self defense to distract from the policies of a failed president. Only in America can a hispanic kill a black in self defense, and be called a white racist for it, meanwhile black killings of whites happens every day and white people just roll over and take it.

    Idiots. You don’t know what racism is. You’ve never experienced it. Your grandparents maybe. Not you. Wake up and stop letting the media goad you into a frenzy over nothing.

    Warrington Carter

    • Joe McDonnald says:

      Some people can’t comment on informed decisions and are not cultured enough to leave a wise comment in a forum like this. Racism = Warrington Carter = Thug = White = Ignorance = Racist = Hatred = Murder

      Enough said

      Joe MacDonald, Hartford Ct

      • dodo says:

        If a black neighborhood had been burglarized by white guys in red baseball hats, you betcha that if a white guy in a red baseball hat walked in, he would find himself beaten into the ground

    • Gen says:

      You’re missing the key tenet that racism doesn’t mean black vs white crime. This article is addressing institutionalized racism and internalized racism.

      Self-defense is not getting out of your car and chasing down a boy after the authorities tell you NOT to. A boy who didn’t approach you or threaten violence against you. A boy you saw and assumed was up to no good. Why? What incited that? His hoodie? The color of his skin? Can you not see self-defense though as a scared young boy, being yelled at and chased by a larger, older man, with a gun? Who needs to stand their ground from who?

      Also have some respect for the things you know nothing about. In communities of color we witness DAILY police brutality and countless murders that are not publicized. Murder is never justified and the tone in your article suggests that black people deserve to be hunted down because they kill white people. What year are you living in? I live in a world where I value people from all walks of life. I would be trying to stop all unjust crime, regardless of race, not justifying it.

      • dodo says:

        Only in America can a thug subculture whine and blame others for their self created thuggism. Time to grow up and raise your children not to be thugs.

        • Jonny says:

          Not your place to tell people how to raise there children. Someones demeanor and clothing choices should not be a premise for someone to be profiled. It’s wrong.

        • nope says:

          really, because trayvons mom didnt try to improve his behavior? its not the parenting. its the way america is run, leaving people of color at the bottom with nothing else to turn to except for “thuggism” in order to survive.

          billy ray didnt really do a good job of preventing miley from turning into a thug either, and he’s rich :/

    • nope says:

      really? no one knows what racism is?
      http://racismtoday.blogspot.com/ enjoy yourself.

  2. Ehud Avni says:

    Wow. Guess you didn’t get the memo. Rachael Jeantel, Trayvon’s friend, said he went back to teach the creepy “ass-cracker” a lesson after arriving back at his father’s front door. “Ass-cracker” AKA a homosexual. So it appears you’re okay with someone going out of their way & beating someone they thought was gay. Interesting.

    • Ryan says:

      she used the phrase “creepy-ass cracker” not “creepy ass-cracker.” yes, this is racist. no, it is not homophobic.

  3. Kent Perry says:

    Quote:”One important question Trayvon Martin’s case raises is; how on earth could a grown adult be acquitted for profiling, stalking down, and murdering and unarmed black teenager?”

    Ill tell you how, when one is found NOT Guilty of “Profiling” (as if it was illegal for private citizens to profile people) When you are not found guilty of stalking (as was proven without a doubt and by trayvons text messages that HE was the one that CAME TO GEORGE ZIMMERMAN) Maybe if you didn’t always profile blacks as victims always being treated unfairly and actually LISTENED to the facts of the case you would know what the hell you are talking about moron.

    That “unarmed” teenager learned the hard way NOT to attack an armed man. When the 6ft2 170LBS Travon was bashing GM’s head into the cement,, How much brain trauma does a black guy get to inflict without getting his ass shot??

    NO ONE CARES WHAT COLOR THE ASSAILANT IS WHEN HE IS BASHING YOUR HEAD INTO THE ASPHALT. Travon should have just went home but he didn’t and THAT is what got the punk killed.

    • Nick Rodgers says:

      No, the only people who care about black people are Zimmerman’s like you. A minor was assaulted by a grown man who followed him in the middle of the night, even as he was told by a 911 operator NOT to follow him. The hollier than thou Zimmer-man decided to go for the kill, because he didn’t care for this African American kid walking through his neighborhood. You murder Trayvon Martin each and every day with stupid ass comments like this one. Wonder what would happen if it was your son and he was killed by a man – sorry, (I get it) then it would all be about race and all you KKK lovers would make it so that the African American community and the rest of the world would know it. It’s all about poor little ‘ole White people. I don’t feel sorry for you, wait, I actually do. To be so unfairly empowered and to know so little about human life.

      • Tayvl says:

        The problem here is, Nick, that everything you just said was make-believe. No facts, just racist propaganda dreamed up by people like the hysterical twit who wrote this article. Facts can be determined and examined; imaginary outrages such as the ones you listed can’t be examined or debated. Do you see the dead end you’re headed towards with this kind of rhetoric? (Rhetorical question, btw…)

        • dodo says:

          Twice as many blacks as whites use SYG to get off free. Zimmerman was pinned onto the ground and being pounded in the face, SYG doesn’t apply to him.

          • Jonny says:

            “Zimmerman was pinned onto the ground and being pounded in the face” How do you know? Where you there the fact of the matter is the only reason that Zimmerman got off scott free was because the prosecution failed to do their jobs properly. If there were better prosecutors then Zimmerman would have been in deep.

          • Ready4Freddy says:

            “Zimmerman was pinned onto the ground and being pounded in the face”

            Jonny –> How do you know?
            ~~~~~

            Direct testimony at trial by eye witness.

            Jonny –> the prosecution failed to do their jobs properly

            The legal consensus before trial was that the prosecution had no case. That became quite evident from the start when even the testimony of the prosecution witnesses supported the defense.

            Charges should never have been brought.

  4. teek says:

    Hey Keegan,

    Interesting opinion, but a few facts might have been useful.

    You were correct in stating Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. However you left out a lot about Trayvon and seem to be repeating the talking points of the media machine that convicted Zimmerman before his trial.

    We have 2 issues, one is legal, the other moral. Legally Zimmerman was allowed to defend himself. His version of events was upheld by a jury believing the evidence and finding him not guilty. The second is a moral issue about the stand your ground laws. Which you have every right to agree or disagree with.

    I love it when people float inflated statistics from a survey or study, without providing a link to validate it. Where did you learn your craft, Fox News?

    “A recent study showed that in states with “Stand Your Ground” laws, white people were more than 300 times more likely to get away with killing a black person.” No link leaves little credibility.

    Now about Marissa Alexander, she fired her gun six feet high into a wall, not a ceiling, discharging the weapon in a few feet away from her ex, as well as children who were really freaked out. She also turned down a plea bargain, the crimes she committed are governed by mandatory sentencing, so the judge had no input on the sentence. She also was under a court order not to go to the house.

    Lastly, how about some more facts and less inflammatory opinions. the media is bad enough without a great site like yours perpetuating the status quo of fallacious opinion presented as fact.

    • nope says:

      the study is real, and im sorry that you’re to lazy to google it and would rather accuse a writer of lying.
      “According to a study conducted for the PBS program Frontline, white people who kill non-white people are 354 percent more likely to be legally justified in a “self-defense” case than a white person who kills another white person. This credible conclusion was drawn from homicide data collected by the FBI from 2005 to 2009.

      The Frontline study was conducted by John Roman, a senior analyst at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center. Roman’s research sought to find patterns of racial inequality in the 43,500 homicides that were recorded in the FBI’s data. He then narrowed his sample size to 5000 homicides, which occurred in the same 2005 to 2009 time frame.”

      marissa was under court order not to go the house but gz was literally on the phone with police being told not to follow trayvon.

      lastly, don’t read an OPINION PIECE if you don’t want to read an opinion.

  5. Larry D Owens says:

    This guy (Keegan O’Brien) is F**KED up worse then Hogan’s Goat. He needs to get an education first, THEN he needs to get the facts of the case straight, and finally he needs to come out of his hole and see the world without those sunglasses. Until then, he has no information that I am prepared to listen to. “Why do the Heathen Rage?”

    Darrow…for the Prosecution

    Larry D Owens

  6. David says:

    I’ve wiped my ass with better race baiting bullshit than this. You want a “conversation”? Listen to Don Lemon, not a black man, not a gay man, a MAN, tell you the real problem – and how to fix it. Obama is just another face in the crowd compared to Don Lemon… Watch and learn.

  7. Junior says:

    The problem has been the focus on irrelevant arguments – some of which are actually unsupported by the evidence.

    1. ‘GZ racially profiled TM’ There is no evidence of this.

    2. ‘GZ disobeyed an order by the police’ * The civilian dispatcher, Sean Noffke, testified that he did not give GZ an order and, in fact, he, like his fellow dispatchers, are trained not make comments that sound like commands. * Noffke also testified under cross that, as a result of his asking GZ which way TM was going, GZ could have reasonably interpreted this as being asked to follow Martin. * It is also not a crime in Florida to disregard a comment made by a civilian dispatcher.

    3. ‘GZ got out of his car’ Not a crime on public property and not negligent either.

    4. ‘GZ followed TM’ Again, anyone can follow anyone on a public street unless the followee has obtained a restraining order against the follower and even there, the RS only places time, place, and manner restrictions on the person enjoined.

    5. ‘GZ wasn’t really injured’ * Under Florida’s self-defense laws, one doesn’t have to be injured AT ALL to use deadly force * No one is required to refrain from defending himself while another is engaged in or attempting to commit a felony.

    6. ‘TM is dead through no fault of his own’ * If you believe that TM assaulted GZ, then he IS dead as a result of his own actions.

    7. ‘GZ could have left’ * Under Florida law, there is not a duty to withdraw rather than use deadly force * TM was straddling GZ so how the latter was supposed to leave the scene is unanswered.

    8. ‘GZ was armed and TM wasn’t’ * One’s fists can be considered weapons and can result in severe bodily harm or death. * GZ was legally carrying a weapon * There is no requirement under the law that the same weapon be used by the assailant * A homeowner can kill an intruder whether or not he has been threatened * Those that attack cannot feign surprise if they are met with superior firepower.

    9. ‘Stand Your Ground!’ * SYG is NOT at issue in this trial. * The defense is a classic self-defense case.

    10. ‘Black men NEVER get to use SYG!’ * Wrong http://tinyurl.com/nboht35

    11. ‘GZ is a man and TM was a boy!’ * As if ‘boys’ don’t commit murder, rape, and assault everyday in this country.

  8. Mike Frost says:

    The Trayvon Martin event is hyped as a race issue, when it was obviously not. It’s important to understand why this is being done.

    The conflict was, in fact, between an armed citizen defending himself and his community and a black hoodlum. Black violence is rampant and black people themselves are most often the victims. The battle line is not between white and black, but between citizens and criminals.

    But this real story is one the leftist propagandists and politicians cannot permit. All liberals hate and fear the thought of empowered citizens of any race defending themselves. This story must be buried, and it has been.

    The news is awash dozens of articles and broadcasts about how a racist white “profiled”, stalked and murdered an innocent black teenager. But the evidence and testimony does not support this. Rather, the evidence shows that it was Trayvon Martin who attacked George Zimmerman.

    Sharpton’s phony racism narrative is used to bury the true story of citizen self defense. See how quickly the liberals have exploited the event to attack stand your ground and concealed carry laws. No matter that black people rely on stand your ground defense in court far more often than white people do. The demonstrators who are taking to the street to protest racism are being used to distract attention from the true battle: citizens versus criminals.

    It’s also important to understand how blacks are manipulated by the left. Liberals can be grouped into rulers, manipulators and the herd. The rulers and manipulators create victim groups to capture and expand their power. Independent, self-reliant citizens can’t be used for this purpose and so are of no value to the Democrat party.

    Black Americans, manipulated for years as a core victim group, are essential to the Democrats keeping power. So blacks must remain victims. Manipulators like Sharpton are relied on to do the dirty work of constantly reminding blacks of their victim identity. As we have seen many times, any black who dares to discard the victim label will be viciously attacked and slandered.

    One hopes that the pride of self-reliance will eventually outweigh the fear of defamation, but don’t hold your breath. The ego gratification of self-righteous indignation and comfort of belonging to a tribe of fellow victims is tough competition.

  9. seansarto says:

    For all this harping about socialism I think it is within Marx’s texts to not define the case as one of racism …but he would probably identify the fanaticism surrounding the case as a fetishism exploiting race as a commodity for social entitlements….Don’t be duped…and don’t be doing the duping.

  10. am says:

    45 Million Americans with arrest records. 4 million voters are disenfranchised. We live in a time when no sin is forgiven or forgotten because of computer records and databases and mugshots published on the internet without a single ethical concern. How can all these incarcerated men land a job? All you cops in USA you have done a great job locking up so many people. But what do you do when half of all our men can never set their foot in a workplace? Take for instance Libya with 30% unemployment. Libya faced literal and complete disintegration of social and national structure. Want to experiment how bad it can get in USA??

  11. Tayvl says:

    This is hilarious. Does this guy think he’s making sense, or is he just happy seeing his picture and name on a webpage… Seriously, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a long, drawn-out exposition on an outrage which only occurred in the writer’s overexcited imagination. Bravo! More please!

    William Hall

  12. Freericky says:

    George Zimmerman is a person of color, is a minority, is a brown man who did not go to prison for defending himself.

  13. Jessie Gbson says:

    Coded language and buzzwords notwithstanding, it appears that Trayvon Martin was the only playa who introduced race into the profile by calling George Zimmerman a “creepy ass cracker”.

    More importantly, Martin would still be quite dead without the so-called Florida stand-your-ground law – which was NOT a factor in this case – as self-defense has been a staple of the common law for centuries.

  14. Ready4Freddy says:

    “Marissa Alexander is an African American woman and mother who fired a warning shot into her ceiling to prevent her abusive ex-boyfriend from attacking her. Instead of being granted the right to stand her ground and defend herself,”

    What everyone seems to omit, the reason she was convicted, was that she left the room, **retrieved a gun from her car in the garage**, then returned to the house.

    • Tayvl says:

      Hey, Keegan’s on a roll, don’t bother him with facts. He was busy writing the best editorial that Barb Williams has ever read…

      LOL

  15. Jessie Gibson says:

    Coded language and buzzwords notwithstanding, it appears that Trayvon Martin was the only person who introduced race into the matter by calling George Zimmerman a “creepy a** cracker”, according to testimony by Martin’s friend, Rachel Jeantel.

    More importantly, Martin would still be quite dead without the so-called Florida stand-your-ground law – which was NOT a defense in this case – as self-defense has been a staple of the common law for centuries.

  16. emeraldeyes says:

    Isn’t it an option for President Obama to pardon Marissa Alexander and any other unjustly imprisoned individual? I enjoyed this article – well written and insightful. Beginning with the election of President Obama and the ensuing infantile drama among the Republicans – clearly the racism button was pushed. How could it be possible that a black man had the talents and gifts that Barack Obama has and how could the rest of the world admire and respect him as no other president? Trayvon Martin’s death now has emboldened the bigots to act over the top into the stratosphere with their uncontrollable racist sentiments, remarks and threats. In no other Western country in the world is there such hatred and dysfunction based on the colour of one’s skin; the rest of the world is watching and our hearts are breaking. Martin Luther King would be devastated to realize that there really is no hope for the races to live together peacefully in America.

  17. Barb Williams says:

    Best editorial I have read Keegan. Ty.

    • Nick Rodgers says:

      I’d have to agree too. Don’t listen to the pea brains stopping by. They certainly feel so threatened they have to come here to leave their naive comments on record. They go through such trouble to acquit Zimmerman again because they are, after all, Zimmermans too.

    • Jon Flakhard says:

      I’d have to agree too. Don’t listen to the pea brains stopping by. They certainly feel so threatened they have to come here to leave their naive comments on record. They go through such trouble to acquit Zimmerman again because they are, after all, Zimmermans too.

  18. Jim says:

    To be quite honest I find this article to actually be racist. For a white boy to assume that all blacks are under treated in 2013. Newsflash: its 2013 and we have a black president. This is super insulting to all of the black people who actually have made accomplishments in their life. Regardless of gender, race, orientation you can be what you want in America right now. Its just so disgusting that some people pull the race card only to make themselves feel better for their own lack of accomplishments.

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