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Movin the Masses: Ramblings on political action in the Black Community

Trayvon-Martin-protesters-march-in-Sanford-4I182P5A-x-largeRule #1 - There Should Be No Need for New Rules

This verdict against justice should have been expected. People can only be surprised if they refuse to acknowledge the history of Black murder by law enforcement and the subsequent acquittals in the US court system, including Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Michael Stewart, Nicholas Heywood, Eleanor Bumbers, and Amado Diallo just to name a few. This acquittal is just the natural extension of the "backward progress" currently taking place in America, which includes the recent negation of the Voting Rights Act. A large segment of the white American population is scared of losing "their" country, and this verdict brings us back to the Supreme Court Dred Scott decision that "The Negro has no rights which the white man is bound to respect." Now, not only does law enforcement have its long-standing pass to kill Black people and claim legal justifications after the fact; now, so does the neighborhood watchman, who joins the shop-keeper and the businessman in having extra-judicial powers. It was also clarified that anyone from any race - white Asian, Latino and Blacks - can kill Black people. In fact, when Black people kill each other, it's one of the few times that there is guaranteed prison time because the state appreciates a two-for-one deal. These court cases always expose the vapid nature of our short-term memories and our desire to believe that things will be different "this time." Look at the evidence - after the almost mandatory not-guilty verdict, we feign outrage that this could happen in America. Many of us want to continue to believe that there is hope in this system. The alternative - that we are a hunted and despised people who are the survivors of an enslaved labor pool and that we were not intended to survive - is too much to bear. It is hard for us to accept the truth: The American criminal justice system is not broken. It was designed to work this way. We are the ones who are broken if we believe in it over and over again.


Rule #2 - Get Rid of the Fake Community Leaders

Anyone who claims to be a community leader and who sees their role as chilling out the black community's reaction to this verdict needs to be overthrown. These community leaders - including ministers, politicians, non-profit leaders and pundits - blast the airwaves and community with calls for prayer, peaceful protest, a national dialogue on race and - finally - a "Let us move on and respect the jury decision" outlook. It should be obvious that these so-called leaders take their marching orders not from the community that they supposedly represent, but from corporate media, corporate sponsors donors, foundations and government officials. These people make Black leaders feel important just because they gave them a call. Their parasitic relationships keep the status quo going; they help the powers-that-be to get through this moment. Those in charge ask themselves: How do we get a "peaceful" reaction so that we don't lose control and hence our authority over the people?" The answer: Get the "community leaders" to calm things down. It's like the old song "But where are the clowns? Quick, send in the clowns. Don't bother. They're here."

RIght now, real community leaders should be advocating for massive civil disobedience and direct action. They should be putting forward a mid-range plan, a plan that goes beyond calls for the Justice Department to intervene, a plan that targets the shrinking of criminal justice system and the "security state." Proposals should be drawn up to target community watch groups who authorize their members to carry weapons and to strip their armed toy-cops of their weapons. The call should be to change the structure of policing so that community boards control the hiring and firing of officers on a precinct level. We need to direct this community outrage to reduce the number of prisons, to support the prisoners in California who are hunger-striking for better conditions. These struggles over the criminalization of the Black community are the natural extensions of the protests against Trayvon's death. A real community leader would say that, "Anytime there is an institution like the criminal justice system that has the power of life and death over you, you must either control that system or destroy it." Real community leaders speak truth to power. They don't cozy up to it and do its bidding.


Rule #3 - Move to Communities Where Your People Make up the Majority

If "your" elected officials are middle-aged, white people who smile at you a lot, it may be time to relocate. Being a "minority" - even a sizable minority - in a city with white officials has become more of a hazard than at any time in the last twenty years. American justice is divvied out across a great racial divide. We don't believe that Black elected officials are - on their own - a cure for our problems. However, we do have a greater ability to pressure them. You may have more government services, but those services include more policing by officers who think your child is dangerous. If you move, the idea that your child is not as easily singled out can give some comfort.


Rule #4 - If You Can't Move, Buy A Gun

This is a new rule that people talk about behind closed doors. It's always controversial to suggest that Black people buy guns. I myself have never been an advocate of gun ownership, but - if you live in a jurisdiction where it's legal to carry one - don't be the only person without one. The larger white community is armed to the teeth. Their basic belief system is that Black criminals will get them and the Black militants will seek revenge (Remember - in their distorted view - a Black lefty with his militant wife already are in the White House. If that was only true!). They believe that they are slowly losing "their" country because of the seemingly unstoppable demographic shift taking place. The combination of the unrestricted gun laws and the corresponding "Shoot first, and ask questions later" and "Stand your ground" self-defense laws will continue to give them wide latitude to justify why they just had to shoot you. We will see more death and more trials. This question may be a stark one, but: Would you rather be an unintended martyr or a living defendant?


Rule #5 - For the Millionth Time, Get Organized!!!

It seems that we don't really like grassroots organizations. They are under-resourced, and they are sometime organized more for the personal egos of their leaders than they are for the larger community. They are time-consuming with long, usually unstructured meetings and bad planning. Not a great way to spend one's time! However, organized people - even badly organized people - are far scarier to the status quo than a bunch of outraged individuals on Facebook. If you spend your time consuming products and not ideas, you are normalized and accepted. But you are usually no better informed than a ten year old child. (No offense to the ten year old child who actually reads about the world!) If you join a group that will place demands on your local officials and on the community, you may not be liked and you may feel alone and crazy, but you will be more effective in finding solutions then you would if you just rant about problems on Facebook. If we get our people organized, then the next time this happens (because this will happen again), we can just skip the trial, assert our power, and demand the justice that American courts will never provide.


Not a Rule, but Strongly Recommended - Talk about Black Liberation

Here - on the Black Organizing Channel of Organizing Upgrade - we hope to incite some dialogue about what Black Liberation means and what it will take to rebuild a Black Liberation movement in this country. We know this isn't the only place to have that dialogue, but (we admit we're a little biased) it's a good place to have it. So join in. You can:

A) Post a comment to this piece. Agree with us. Disagree with us. Uplift the brilliance of what we say, or rip our arguments apart.

B) Contact Kamau or Hashim if you have something you'd like to write for this channel.

C) Join us for a National Call to discuss the state of Black Organizing in the U.S.


Save the Date: National Call

Black Organizing in the U.S.

Where are we and where do we need to be going?

Thursday, September 19, 7p Est/4p PST

Call info to come! Stay tuned to Organizing Upgrade!


Published in Black Organizing

628x471Watching part's of the Zimmerman trial has reminded me of all that's wrong with the American jurisprudence system. In my best legal argument - the prosecution eats ass (sorry if there is a organized group of salad tossers who are offended by the comparison to the prosecution). Let's start with the picking of a jury that includes no Black woman. Any trial attorney who has studied the science of jury selection knows that - in a matter involving a Black male victim or if the defendant is a young Black male - Black women are more open to listening to the nuances of the case.  The most obvious reason is that Black women have birthed many a Black son. Black women like Trayvon's mother are familiar with what racial profiling is from their own lived experiences and from the lives they share with fathers, sons, uncles and cousins who also have to survive being targeted on a daily basis.  This strategy is almost sacrosanct for prosectors who want to win some justice in these type of cases. To somehow allow the selection of five white woman (on a six-member jury) shows that the prosecutor is either inept or has potentially decided to throw the case.

Further, the prosecution has not presented a succinct theory of the case. In essence this case is about a wanna-be Barney Fife who was rejected from being a cop and who had his "thug-o-meter" go off because he sees a "threat" from every young Black man.  Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin, left vehicle and instigated a confrontation (reflected by 911 operator saying that they don't need him to continue following). At some point, he may have been losing the fight and then shot young Martin.

Instead of presenting a case that can be easily understood, we get an overabundance of witnesses that step over each other and who did not need to be called to the stand at all. The prosecution needed only one police investigator to lay out the background, the 911 operator that Zimmerman spoke to, one expert who could document why neighborhood watch-cops should not confront people they deem suspicious and a forensic expert. In the closing argument, he should  present a crisp clarification on how the "stand your ground" law works: you can't start a fight and then claim self-defense when you get the worse of it.

The star witness should have been Trayvon's young friend, Rachel Jeantel, who  was on the phone with him during his walk home when he noticed he was being followed. Her dramatic testimony - along with Martin's mother's - should have sealed the conviction. Ms. Jeantel was of course nervous when testifying because - really - who isn't when being asked questions in a trial that is a media onslaught and then having to face a harsh cross-examination? It would be interesting to know how many hours were spent preparing the witness, making sure that she understood what was going to happen and how to respond. However unflatteringly she was portrayed by stupid and racist pundits, there was an element of a witness who was not sure how to respond when attacked. The prosecution (who also has a "creepy ass cracka" look) seems to have not spent an adequate amount of time making sure the witness was ready for what he knew would happen during the cross-examination. Although she held up well, she may not have been properly prepared for the art of theater in the court room.

As we know, the state policing system never wanted to press charges in this case. Out of impulse, they immediately sympathized with anyone who claims self-defense after shooting a young black man. The idea that our youth are captured animals who can turn dangerous at any time when they are not under supervision has almost become an instinct to the larger white society. This prosecution is similar to those that we have seen many times when actual police offers are tried against the will of the prosecutor and the verdicts are almost always a foregone conclusion.

If the verdict in this case turns out to be what many are beginning to suspect - that Zimmerman will be found "not guilty " - the passion and resistance by the family and the grassroots community that demanded charges were filed against Zimmerman won't be forgotten. If the verdict is not guilty, many will take to the streets again to make sure that others understand that there is a price to pay for taking the lives of young Black men and that - when a so-called criminal justice system continues to fail in providing even a small level of justice - the community will act. And we will find more than just Zimmerman guilty.


This piece was originally published on Colorlines.

Make Demands, Try the System 

George Zimmerman will go on trial today for the murder of Trayvon Martin. But let’s be clear, within the defense’s opening arguments, for many who follow the trial—which will be televised!—it will be Trayvon Martin who will be on trial.

He in fact already is. On May 23, the Orlando Sentinel offered the following news:

New evidence in Zimmerman case: Trayvon texted about fighting, smoking marijuana about a week before he was killed. 

The evidence that George Zimmerman’s attorneys have uncovered on Trayvon Martin’s cell phone paints a troubling picture of the Miami Gardens teenager: He sent text messages about being a fighter, smoking marijuana and being ordered to move out of his home by his mother.

And photos from that phone offer more of the same: healthy green plants—what appear to be marijuana—growing in pots and a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun.

So here we go again with a script deep in the white American psyche: the impossibility of Black innocence.

My first experience with the horror of racism was the murder of Emmett Till in 1955; he was only a year older than me when he died. It was alleged that Till, a 14-year-old Chicago black boy visiting Mississippi for the summer, did not know his place and whistled at a white woman in a store. That evening the husband of the woman and his friend came to the house of Emmett’s grandfather, kidnapped Emmett, beat him beyond recognition, and then drowned his body. When his mutilated body was found, Emmett’s Mother, Mamie Till, insisted that his casket be left open because, in her words, “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.” The images shocked the black community and attracted great anger and sympathy from anti-racist people all over the world.

And yet, for some, the debate focused on whether Emmett had or hadn’t made any flirtatious advances toward a southern white woman—with many believing that if so, he had brought his murder on himself.

When I worked in the Newark Community Union Project in 1966-1968 in the city’s black south and central wards, we worked on many community issues including police brutality. In each case we worked to identify the facts of the story and document the specifics of the brutality. I still remember George Richardson, a militant black political figure explaining to us his views on the realities of police brutality cases as if it was yesterday. You know, Eric, in these police brutality cases, we are always looking for the perfect black victim, the completely “innocent” black man, but he doesn’t exist. In our ideal case, a white cop beats or shoots a black man and it turns out it was a black doctor walking down the street doing absolutely nothing when a white cop comes up to him and beats him badly. But that is never the way it is. The guy usually is poor or working class, has a criminal record, he was drinking, he talked back to the cop, he ran a traffic sign, he shoplifted, he ‘resisted arrest’, he yelled at the cop, he raised his hand whether in self-defense or even to fight back. But that has nothing to do with the fact that he was beaten half to death for being black. In every case, the black man is on trial, guilty until proven innocent and you what, for most of these folks, even our hypothetical black doctor could never be innocent enough. Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black manchild leaving a gated community and shot down in cold blood was as close in reality to that hypothetical black doctor as one can imagine, but it did not save him from an early grave.

So now, in this important test case, it’s essential that the civil rights movement and organizers in communities of color put the system on trial—for this trial is not about George Zimmerman alone, but also about how a system that sanctioned the murder of an un-armed black teenager until mass national and international pressure forced a trial. We have to win the argument that there are no extenuating circumstances in the stalking and murder of unarmed black men, and while we are there, we have to win the argument that a pen, or a knife, or a shopping cart, or a parked car or “something that looked like a gun” are not lethal weapons at 15 feet, and that lethal force is not an option.

Every time someone raises any questions about Trayvon, and we can be assured that as the trial goes on, the character assassination of Trayvon Martin will escalate, we have to counter with the most radical and structural demands on the system possible, to shift the therms of the debate and put the system on trial. This tactic—what’s been called “counter-hegemonic demand development”—was the great contribution of the civil rights movement and is rooted in Frederick Douglass’ advice: Power accedes to nothing without a demand. 

We have to roll back all the stop and frisk laws, all the “hold your ground laws,” all the “war on drugs” laws, the endless web of laws that have put one million black people in prison and millions more in probation and parole. We have to demand President Obama enforce the 1964 Civil Rights Act and use his statutory power to withhold federal funds from any agency using those funds in a racially discriminatory manner—from Los Angeles to Chicago, from New York to Houston and everywhere else in between. We need to demand the social welfare state, not the police state—1,000 more buses, 1,000 more teachers, 1,000 more nurses, 1,000 fewer police. When we say Trayvon Martin did not die in vain, we have to fight for the maximum program that his life and his death and his innocence deserve.

Published in Eric Mann

alexanderWhile Florida is still raw from the death of Trayvon Martin, a new incident of injustice may be unfolding a few hours away in Jacksonville, Florida, the home district of Angela Corey, the "special" prosecutor in Trayvon's case.  In a slight twist of irony, the "stand your ground" (or more properly " justifiable use of force") statutes are also being invoked in this case, except by an alleged victim of domestic violence that says she was defending herself against an abusive husband. 

Published in Subhash Kateel

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About the Author

  • Kamau has worked as a community activist and attorney for over fifteen years in New York City and now in the south. He has been a leading member of several grassroots organizations dedicated to human rights advocacy and building grassroots institutions in the black community. Currently he is building a new organization named Amandla Training and Organizing Project. You can follow Kamau on twitter at @kamaufranklin.

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