Trayvon Martin's execution by George Zimmerman will generate wave after wave of blog posts. Hopefully wave after wave of political organizing against the Stand Your Ground law that I imagine Zimmerman will use in his defense.
I wanted to chime in to make a couple of points:
1. It's important to understand that Zimmerman's actions are "nested". That is to say they are embedded within a larger framework. To say that "Zimmerman was racist" or to say that "America is racist and that's why Trayvon was murdered" isn't quite enough. Because even given how racist America is, there are literally millions of people walking around with hoodies even as you read this (and I'm not referring to the people donning hoodies in protest).
There are a few different layers that loom large.
The first is the general layer of anxiety generated by the economic tsunami we're still in the midst of. Although I don't have data to prove it, I'd bet that people are in general much more fearful than they were several years ago, and much more willing to act on that fear.
The second is the racial history of the Florida panhandle. In a tweet I noted that George Starling is one of the people I thought of when I first heard about Trayvon Martin's execution. Isabel Wilkerson told Starling's story (among others) in the pages of her recent (brilliant) work THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS. Starling lived in Eustis, Florida, in the thirties and forties. In 1945 to make ends meet he worked in the orange grove, picking oranges with other black laborers. Because the war left orange groves facing a labor shortage, Starling used the opportunity to organize the other laborers, getting the grove managers to pay them better wages. In response to his efforts, the managers plotted to kill him. When he heard about the plot, he left on the next available bus. I don't think he ever returned.
Sanford, FL. is very close to the orange groves Starling had to flee from. [edited…Isabel Wilkerson contacted me and noted that Starling picked oranges IN Sanford.]
That racial history looms large and doesn't just go away as the population dies…because without gentrification of some sort, that population is simply replaced by others from the same region.
The third is the legal layer of cover provided by Stand Your Ground. Given the fact that states like Alaska and I believe Minnesota either have already passed syg laws or are considering doing so I wouldn't make a cavalier connection between race and the existence of Stand Your Ground laws. Alaska and Minnesota are more racially diverse than perhaps we think they are, but they aren't Missippi and Alabama. With that said though, SYG laws have the general tendency to increase conflict AND to decrease the ability of law enforcement officers to deal with that conflict.
The fourth is the layer created by the gated community. Gated communities themselves regardless of their racial makeup are designed to exclude poorer populations from richer populations. Such communities are often designed in such a way that outsiders became painfully obvious. Now from what I've read many of the homes in this specific community were taken by foreclosure…a dynamic that increases whatever anxiety already existed.
With all of the commentary I haven't seen anyone talk about this nesting process. Doing so helps understand why what happened to Trayvon could plausibly happen…and why it could plausibly happen THERE as opposed to somewhere else.
2. What happened to Trayvon wasn't his, or our, fault.
Someone at Global Grind made the case that black people need to look in the mirror because perhaps stereotypes we created or reproduced are at play here.
No. No. Ten thousand times no.
We talk about citizenship RIGHTS for a reason. By dint of our birth we have the right to wear what we want, say what we want, behave how we want. There are limits–we can't shout "fire" in a burning theater; we can't go around without clothes in most places. But there is no constitutional amendment forbidding the use of hoodies., baggy pants, doo-rags or whatever else the fashion is this days.
Black people have long made the argument that racism is the fault of certain types of black men and women. You know the type. The type that doesn't know how to keep their legs closed. The type that always talks at the movies. The type that wears pants down around their ankles. It's THEIR fault we're in the condition we're in.
The natural consequence of this deeply problematic logic is "inactivism." And we should fight against it with all of our might. Our role here isn't and shouldn't be to fight for Trayvon and the other "nice kids". Here we have to fight for the knuckleheads as well.