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The Murder of Trayvon Martin, Three Years On

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Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence is a timely collection of essays, poetry and documents relating to the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer George Zimmerman. Edited by journalist and CounterPunch editor Jeffrey St. Clair; CounterPunch, The Nation and Harper’s contributor JoAnn Wypijewski; and veteran civil rights activist Kevin Alexander Gray, the book looks at the Martin case as an example of an ongoing pattern of police, and wanna be police, killing of African-American youth. In the editors’ words, the book “tracks the case and explores why Trayvon’s name and George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict symbolized all the grieving, the injustice, the profiling and free passes based on white privilege and police power: the long list of Trayvons known and unknown.”

This book’s strength is partly in the range of voices it presents, and the different angles the authors take on the tragedies in question. Not all of the writers are in agreement on questions raised by Trayvon’s death; as the editors note in their introduction, “… no neat tie-up would bring comfort, or that insipid concept closure, or let Trayvon live again.”

The book includes material on “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, which The Progressive publisher Matthew Rothschild argues “legalize and immunize vigilantism.” Rothschild points out that these laws, under which lethal force is permitted if there is fear of bodily harm, were initiated with the backing of both the NRA and the shadowy collection of corporations and right-wing legislators called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In 2005, Florida, where George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, was the first state to pass a Stand Your Ground law. By 2009, two fatal shootings a week were treated as justifiable under the new law. The NRA is committed to KillingTrayvons1bringing a version of this chilling legislation to every state in the U.S.

For those inclined to a forensic level of examination, there are extracts from the testimony of Trayvon’s mother Sybrina Fulton and the closing arguments of Zimmerman’s lawyer Mark O’Mara, not to mention the medical examiner’s report on Trayvon’s death and other relevant documentation.

The analysis of the case is also broadened to tie in American foreign policy. In Amy Goodman’s wide-ranging interview with Cornell West, West pulls no punches in his condemnation of Washington’s targeting of brown people for drone assassination, calling President Obama “a global George Zimmerman.”

Trayvon Martin was demonized in death for being nabbed with at least trace amounts of pot in his possession. For anyone who has wasted time staring at a ceiling under the influence of weed, the idea that cannabis leads to physical violence is beyond ridiculous, but such an association, at least for poor non-white youth, has been cultivated for decades. In a piece called “Marijuana’s ‘Dark Side’: Drugs, Race and the Criminalization of Trayvon Martin,” Alexander Tepperman expertly examines the drug war against poor, mostly black and brown, youth. Tepperman describes the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 as “[giving] birth to prosecutorial policies and police practices that, through their selective targeting and draconian scope, devastated urban inner-city neighborhoods.” This was followed by Ronald Reagan’s 1982 declaration of war on the evil menace of illicit drugs. Tepperman notes that this cynical campaign “sent legions of young, disproportionately black men to prison for drug trafficking and possession”; focusing on inner city neighborhoods “created and perpetuated a cycle of racial profiling that ultimately bloated US prisons with record numbers of African-Americans.”

Given the uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere in response to white cop Darren Wilson’s not guilty verdict in the killing of Michael Brown, the book could hardly be more timely.

Since the Michael Brown case, another white cop was set free for the killing of a black man. But that case sparked a national uprising of protests, since the fatal strangulation of Eric Garner by police officer Daniel Pantaleo was filmed on a cell phone and widely circulated.

In conversations about the horrific killing of Garner, the names of other recent black victims of police violence pop up: Tamir Rice, Timothy Russell, Malissa Williams, Akai Gurley, Renisha McBride … it’s useless to try to keep up with them all. The list just goes on and on. Indeed, as pointed out in Killing Trayvons, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement estimates that every thirty-six hours another black woman, man, or child is killed by police, security guards or vigilantes.

Many of the pieces in this book originally appeared on CounterPunch, which has been diligently covering this crisis for years. The essays form a searing indictment of a status quo that has accepted brutalization of communities of color and the premature termination of black lives since the era of widespread lynchings. As activist Mike King writes in his contribution to this collection, “A key difference between yesterday’s weekly lynching and today’s six killings a week lies in the visibility and the conscious complicity of white America. While the white terrorism that was lynching drew out many in their Sunday best to actively participate and revel in, the sanitized modern equivalent is something that white America prefers to ignore, something it doesn’t publicly celebrate but shows little sign of wanting to change, either.” King concludes, “Today, racist violence is a practice many white people would rather not have to think about, not see and not feel moral complicity in.”

Killing Trayvons is packed with useful perspectives and powerful writing. It should be widely read for use in struggles for justice in the U.S.

is a new collection of essays, poetry and documents relating to the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer George Zimmerman. Edited by journalist and CounterPunch editor Jeffrey St. Clair; CounterPunch, The Nation and Harper’s contributor JoAnn Wypijewski; and veteran civil rights activist Kevin Alexander Gray, the book looks at the Martin case as an example of an ongoing pattern of police, and wanna be police, killing of African-American youth. In the editors’ words, the book “tracks the case and explores why Trayvon’s name and George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict symbolized all the grieving, the injustice, the profiling and free passes based on white privilege and police power: the long list of Trayvons known and unknown.”

This book’s strength is partly in the range of voices it presents, and the different angles the authors take on the tragedies in question. Not all of the writers are in agreement on questions raised by Trayvon’s death; as the editors note in their introduction, “… no neat tie-up would bring comfort, or that insipid concept closure, or let Trayvon live again.”

The book includes material on “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, which The Progressive publisher Matthew Rothschild argues “legalize and immunize vigilantism.” Rothschild points out that these laws, under which lethal force is permitted if there is fear of bodily harm, were initiated with the backing of both the NRA and the shadowy collection of corporations and right-wing legislators called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In 2005, Florida, where George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, was the first state to pass a Stand Your Ground law. By 2009, two fatal shootings a week were treated as justifiable under the new law. The NRA is committed to bringing a version of this chilling legislation to every state in the U.S.

For those inclined to a forensic level of examination, there are extracts from the testimony of Trayvon’s mother Sybrina Fulton and the closing arguments of Zimmerman’s lawyer Mark O’Mara, not to mention the medical examiner’s report on Trayvon’s death and other relevant documentation.

The analysis of the case is also broadened to tie in American foreign policy. In Amy Goodman’s wide-ranging interview with Cornell West, West pulls no punches in his condemnation of Washington’s targeting of brown people for drone assassination, calling President Obama “a global George Zimmerman.”

Trayvon Martin was demonized in death for being nabbed with at least trace amounts of pot in his possession. For anyone who has wasted time staring at a ceiling under the influence of weed, the idea that cannabis leads to physical violence is beyond ridiculous, but such an association, at least for poor non-white youth, has been cultivated for decades. In a piece called “Marijuana’s ‘Dark Side’: Drugs, Race and the Criminalization of Trayvon Martin,” Alexander Tepperman expertly examines the drug war against poor, mostly black and brown, youth. Tepperman describes the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 as “[giving] birth to prosecutorial policies and police practices that, through their selective targeting and draconian scope, devastated urban inner-city neighborhoods.” This was followed by Ronald Reagan’s 1982 declaration of war on the evil menace of illicit drugs. Tepperman notes that this cynical campaign “sent legions of young, disproportionately black men to prison for drug trafficking and possession”; focusing on inner city neighborhoods “created and perpetuated a cycle of racial profiling that ultimately bloated US prisons with record numbers of African-Americans.”

Given the uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere in response to white cop Darren Wilson’s not guilty verdict in the killing of Michael Brown, the book could hardly be more timely.

Since the Michael Brown case, another white cop was set free for the killing of a black man. But that case sparked a national uprising of protests, since the fatal strangulation of Eric Garner by police officer Daniel Pantaleo was filmed on a cell phone and widely circulated.

In conversations about the horrific killing of Garner, the names of other recent black victims of police violence pop up: Tamir Rice, Timothy Russell, Malissa Williams, Akai Gurley, Renisha McBride … it’s useless to try to keep up with them all. The list just goes on and on. Indeed, as pointed out in Killing Trayvons, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement estimates that every thirty-six hours another black woman, man, or child is killed by police, security guards or vigilantes.

Many of the pieces in this book originally appeared on CounterPunch, which has been diligently covering this crisis for years. The essays form a searing indictment of a status quo that has accepted brutalization of communities of color and the premature termination of black lives since the era of widespread lynchings. As activist Mike King writes in his contribution to this collection, “A key difference between

yesterday’s weekly lynching and today’s six killings a week lies in the visibility and the conscious complicity of white America. While the white terrorism that was lynching drew out many in their Sunday best to actively participate and revel in, the sanitized modern equivalent is something that white America prefers to ignore, something it doesn’t publicly celebrate but shows little sign of wanting to change, either.” King concludes, “Today, racist violence is a practice many white people would rather not have to think about, not see and not feel moral complicity in.”

Killing Trayvons is packed with useful perspectives and powerful writing. It should be widely read for use in struggles for justice in the U.S.

Ben Terrall is a writer living in the Bay Area. He can be reached at: bterrall@gmail.com.

This review originally ran in the Berkeley Daily Planet.

 

 

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Ben Terrall is a writer living in the Bay Area. He can be reached at: bterrall@gmail.com

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