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Whose Ground Is It, Anyway?


The Travesty goes like this.

The grounds for Zimmerman’s acquittal were that he shot someone, and killed him. Pure and simple.

The grounds for Trayvon Martin’s having been killed is that he decided to defend himself against someone stalking him.

Does it make sense? No. Is it true? Yes.

There’s nothing to understand. That’s just the way it is. But if we do want to understand it, we have to look at the “role model.” Or rather, at The Role Model.

The Role Model is the US, the War Making Power.

The US walks (drives, flies, shoots and bombs its way) into another country under fabricated excuses, and considers anyone who tries to defend their country against this as an aggressor. Hence, Guantanamo is filled with prisoners, never charged with anything because the only thing they did was try to defend Afghanistan against a US invasion. Trayvon Martin is dead for the same reason – that is, Zimmerman invaded his space (acting like the US). With a role model like that, you can’t go wrong. Right?

To act in self-defense is to be the aggressor. Just ask Marissa Alexander. She has a restraining order against her estranged husband. He invades her house and threatens her. She goes out to the garage to get her gun, and comes back into the house to expel this unwanted invader from it. He approaches her, she fires a warning shot into the ceiling, the invader leaves, and she is sentenced to 20 years in prison for attempted murder. She couldn’t claim she was standing her ground because she is a black woman. The fact that this happened in her house meant that she was the aggressor. The judge said that she could not claim self-defense because she left the house and came back in, which made her the aggressor. Had she been acting in self-defense, he said, she would have fled. Her estranged husband, violating a restraining order with the same impunity that the US violates international law in invading countries and torturing prisoners, is the one who can claim to be the victim, standing his ground in her house, which is why she is accused of attempted murder.

Trayvon Martin is walking along, minding his own business, which is why he cannot claim his space of privacy as his ground. The ground belongs to the invader, the one who aggressed against the space of Trayvon Martin’s privacy, and stands on it. The one whodefends his space becomes the aggressor.

Have I got that right? Whoever defends their space is a criminal, an aggressor (which is why Trayvon Martin is dead), while whoever invades that space and stands his ground can claim self-defense, and kill with impunity. Racially profiling a black teenager in a hoodie means he is a foreigner in his own space. We have prisons in Guantanamo for such people (unless we kill them first).

War is the role model. For the last 60 years, the US has waged wars of aggression, bombing other countries and landing troops they have trained to be killers on foreign soil – Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan – while referring to each invasion as “self-defense.”

Invasion is self-defense. Self-defense is aggression. Racialization is equality. Unless you are the racialized.

Zimmerman’s ground, the ground he claimed, didn’t belong to him. He was receiving stolen goods. You know how you steal land from people who do not see it as property? You turn it into property. You mark out a boundary, write that boundary down on a piece of paper called a deed, and sell it. You cannot steal land by picking it up and putting it in your pocket. You steal land by turning into a commodity. It is a juridical trick, like acquitting a man of manslaughter after he has just slaughtered a man.

Oh, and one more thing to commodify the land, to steal it. You have to stand on it.

Standing your ground is a colonialist notion, since the ground is not “yours.” Not only is it not yours, it is a social space in which ownership cannot be claimed.

Disputes between individuals are personal things, not spatial. To make them spatial is to make them territorial. Any claim to the territory has no legitimacy other than that of force or criminality. Or in other words, colonialism. For Zimmerman to have stood “his” ground is already to be a criminal. Which is enough to get you exonerated of any crime in a colonialist society. Colonialism depends on it.

A beautiful thing happened at the demonstration in Oakland against The Zimmerman Travesty (two days after it happened). We, the colonized (yes, I make common cause under that name), met at the usual place, the plaza whose popular name commemorates the exercise of the police state that occurred at “Fruitvale Station.”

You know why this is a police state? Because you can’t stand your ground against the police. They are the invaders against whom all others are aggressors. The slightest gesture of dignity or self-respect will get you beaten to the ground, arrested for resisting arrest and assaulting an officer, and possibly killed. Guess who the police arrested at the demonstration I am speaking about. A photographer, plying his trade.

Anyway, there appeared at this demonstration a small band of the colonized on bicycles – bicycles tricked out with fancy wheels and decorations, and music playing. And just as the march was to start, they rode into the intersection, coordinated and circling around in it, stopping traffic in all directions. Taking back the land by not standing on it but moving. The motion, like dance, was powerful because it cannot be commodified. Only cars can stand their ground (i.e. colonize) on that land. Or cops – who arrived a few minutes later. These guys on bikes just rode circles around them, so that all the cops could do was take over the intersection, which meant taking over the task of stopping traffic in all directions.

It happened again and again, until it finally happened on the expressway. Bikes. And photographers. And we, the colonized, dancing behind them to their music.

Only the totally naïve would believe that Trayvon Martin attacked Zimmerman, instead of dancing around his stalking. There was a photo of Zimmerman with blood on his face, which surfaced three weeks after the event. Had the picture been made on the night of the murder, it would have been in every newspaper’s front page the next day. It took three weeks to produce it. It didn’t look like Photoshop, but you never can tell.

All that happened not because Trayvon Martin is black. No, we are no longer permitted to play that race card. There is a whole slew of Supreme Court decisions that legitimize profiling. Please see Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, for a partial list, complete with explanations in laymen’s language. Trayvon Martin wasn’t stalked and shot because he was black. He was stalked and shot because Zimmerman is white. It is the fact that Trayvon Martin could be stalked and shot by Zimmerman with impunity that makes him black. The DA and the AG assisted Zimmerman, in a cabal of jurisprudence, with the jury carrying the ball the rest of the way, because Zimmerman is white. It is that cabal that makes Trayvon Martin black. Pure and simple.

OMG, my deepest apologies. I’ve got this all wrong. Its not that the US invasions of other countries is the role model for Zimmerman. Not at all. It’s the Zimmerman’s of the country that are the role model for the US government.

Steve Martinot can be reached at:




Steve Martinot is Instructor Emeritus at the Center for Interdisciplinary Programs at San Francisco State University. He is the author of The Rule of Racialization: Class, Identity, Governance, Forms in the Abyss: a Philosophical Bridge between Sartre and Derrida (both Temple) and The Machinery of Whiteness. He is also the editor of two previous books, and translator of Racism by Albert Memmi. He has written extensively on the structures of racism and white supremacy in the United States, as well as on corporate culture and economics, and leads seminars on these subjects in the Bay Area.

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