Justice for Trayvon organizers react to Zimmerman murder charges

Protesters commemorate Martin March 21

The Bay Area joined cities across the country in holding protests and rallies demanding justice for Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old shot and killed by 28-year-old George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida Feb. 26. 700 wore hoodies and marched downtown March 21. An “emergency scream-out” held March 26 outside of the Hall of Justice and jail at 850 Bryant called for justice for Martin as well as victims of police violence such as Ramarley Graham, an unarmed 18-year old Bronx man who was killed in his home by police. A “hoodies and hijabs” march last week in Oakland commemorated Martin’s death alongside the death of Shaima Al-Awadi, a 32-year old mother of five who was killed in a potential hate crime in her El Cajon home last month.

Speakers at these protests expressed outrage that Zimmerman had not been charged with any crime.

Now he has. On April 11, Zimmerman was charged with murder in the second degree.

I asked local activists- is this justice?

“I’m not jumping up for joy that this murderer has finally been arrested. I hope we can question what took so long,” said Tiny Gray-Garcia, creator of POOR magazine, who helped organize the scream-out.

She compared the case to that of Oscar Grant and his killer, Johannes Mehserle. After protest erupted demanding that Mehserle be charged with Grant’s killing, he became the first police officer in the history of California to be charged with murder. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served eleven months in prison. 

“In the same way that Mehserle was finally charged, will Zimmerman eventually get a slap on the wrist?” asked Gray-Garcia. 

The March 26 scream-out was “not only for our young brother Trayvon. It was for Oscar Grant, Ramarley Graham, it was for Idress Stelley, Aiyana Jones, all the victims of police terror,” said Gray-Garcia

Unlike Graham, Stelley, and Jones, Martin was not killed by a police officer. But Gray-Garcia believes that his death can be atttibuted to "police culture."

"Trayvon was murdered by a volunteer vigilante," said Gray-Garcia of the neighborhood watch captain who had aspirations of becoming a police officer. "He was part of a violent police culture."

If police and prison culture is a problem, is Zimmerman's arrest- by police- justice?

In the media storm that followed the incident, some writers, such as this one at the Crunk Feminist Collective, have grappled with the question.

"How can I demand a criminal conviction for Zimmerman when I am opposed to prisons?" asks the Crunk Feminist Collective writer. "How do I reconcile these things?  I’m not sure yet.  But what I do know is that this really is not about the prison, but about a prison state that targets black and brown bodies in problematic ways.  It’s about a system of policing and surveillance, in which some bodies are always under the eye of the state."

Isaac Ontiveros of the Oakland-based Critical Resistance, a group whose "vision is the creation of genuinely safe, healthy communities that respond to harm without relying on prisons and punishment," has also struggled with this issue.

"That’s a challenging question for everybody," said Ontiveros. "Part of it is, how can we start to dislodge the logic of neighborhood watches? You look at neighborhood watch associations and who are they watching, what do they mean by neighborhood, and who is considered suspicious?"

After Martin’s death, protests across the country were unrelenting calling for Zimmerman’s arrest. Days before the arrest and charge were made, a group of students who had marched 40 miles to Sanford from Daytona Beach “occupied” the Sanford police station, condemning how the case had been handled and demanding the termination of Sanford police Chief Bill Lee Jr. Police had declined to press charges against Zimmerman, saying that he had acted in self-defense.

On March 23, almost a month after the Feb. 26 shooting, Florida governor Rick Scott appointed special prosecutor Angela Corey to investigate the case. Zimmerman was charged with murder and taken into custody April 11.

“We do not prosecute by public pressure or petition. We prosecute based on facts and the laws of Florida,” said Corey at the time.

“She contends that neither petitions or media pressure influenced her decision, when we know too well that without it, nothing would have happened to Zimmerman,” said Mesha Irizarry, another scream-out organizer. Irizarry's son, Idriss Stelley, was killed by police in 2001. 

The incident has put a national spotlight on racism in the United States. In Sanford, the NAACP held a town hall meeting for African American residents to air their frustrations with profiling in their own lives; hundreds attended

“If you're black and you're shot, particularly by someone who's not black, that it is not viewed as seriously," Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte told Reuters.

He added: "that's why some feel that Mr. Zimmerman was allowed to just go on his way while Mr. Martin went to a morgue. And certainly if it was reversed, and Zimmerman had been black, he would have been detained and arrested."

The same sentiment was expressed by protesters in San Francisco March 21. The speakers that day were family members of black teens who had been killed and whose murders had, they said, not been thoroughly investigated.

“Personal justice would be to open up all these other cases,” said Gray-Garcia.

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