Cincinnati Rallies for Justice for Trayvon

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Monday's rally. Photo by Griffin Ritze.

Monday’s rally. Photo by Griffin Ritze.

On Sunday, about 75 people came to a speak out in support of Justice for Trayvon Martin. The protest was called less than 24 hours in advance, when George Zimmerman was cleared of any wrongdoing for shooting and killing Martin.

In February 2012, Zimmerman murdered the 17 year old Martin as the teenager was walking through Zimmerman’s neighborhood. He followed Martin after initially being told by the police to not pursue him. Details of what followed are vague, but the entire case was based on essentially one side of the story–that presented by Zimmerman’s lawyers, even though the man never took the stand to testify himself.

The case echoed earlier slanders about Martin: that he was a thug, that he slung dope, that the world is better off without him. The public knows only one thing for sure: that Zimmerman did pursue martin, that the two got into a fight, and that Zimmerman fatally shot the teen who was simply walking back from the store with a can of tea and a bag of skittles.

About a dozen speakers talked about how the result of the case had surprised, or not suprised, them. They talked about how racism was embedded in the culture and how it affected them personally. One mother spoke about her seeing a little bit of Trayvon in her own children.

A schoolteacher related the feelings she has as she goes into her classroom each day thinking about how her students are oppressed under the same system as Martin. And she affirmed her belief that Trayvon had a right to fight back against the aggression of George Zimmerman. She criticized those who were saying that Trayvon should have run–in Cincinnati, she reminded the crowd, we know that running away doesn’t stop a racist cop or vigilante from shooting.

Twelve years ago, Timothy Thomas, a 19 year old unarmed black man, was killed after fleeing from a group of cops chasing him over unresolved traffic tickets. Thomas was the fifteenth black man to be murdered by police in the preceding 6 years (a rate not too different than under the regime today). The city erupted in protest and heavy-handed repression was the response to the justified outpouring of rage.

Vanessa Sparks, who helped to organize the rally, described the extent of the issue: in 2012, 313 black people were killed by the police. Many of them young. Many of them unarmed. A number of the attendees said they felt that we need a movement that could challenge verdicts like the one in this case, or as Sparks put it, “society needs to quit acquiescing to unjust laws.”

Sparks was also surprised at the makeup of the jury, initially unsure what to think of the all women group (6 in all, 5 of whom were white, 1 latina). As details about the jury’s deliberations have been made public in the days since the verdict, there are more and more reasons for the people to question the decision. One juror has said, anonymously, that she felt that Trayvon “played a huge role in his own death.”

There is also the character assassination of Rachele Jeantel, Trayvon’s friend who he called just before he was killed. Instead of taking her testimony seriously, the media criticized the woman for her apparently grammatically incorrect dialect. In reality, Jeantel speaks English perfectly fine, but not in the manner that our white-dominated society would want her to.

Local Activist, Trey Gruber reminded the crowd how racism is being used in Cincinnati to justify the gentrification of Over-the-Rhine, where the uprising was centered. As the streets are “cleaned up” the violence and police repression that is a matter of daily life gets shifted as the poor black population is forced out. “Look at the stores and restaurants opening in Over-the-Rhine,” he said, “do you find any black workers in the front of the house? Do you find any black owners?” Gruber finished with a moment of meditation on the common belief that we still live in a post-racial society, even as the president feels the need to make statements urging citizens not to riot.

The crowd reiterated their belief that justice had not been served and tied Trayvon’s death and the bogus acquittal of George Zimmerman to systemic problems of society: Jim Crow, racial profiling, the prison industrial complex, police racism, white supremacy and socio-economic disparity. Shauntina Burke put things simply, stating that “there’s no justice,” even though she felt that the case was already heading in an unfortunate direction from the beginning.

A second march followed on Monday and, even with little planning or leadership, it was a huge success. The initially small group who gathered at Fountain Square made the decision to march around downtown in order to encourage people to join in.

Shouts of “No Justice, No Peace!” and “What do we want? Justice!” filled downtown Cincinnati as commuters made their way out of the city. By the end of the two hour march which snaked through downtown, about 100 people gathered back at Fountain Square, and a short speak out was followed by protesters locking arms and having a moment of silence to remember Trayvon.

This case, especially the treatment of the victim, embodied the white supremacist foundation that is American society is built upon. Zimmerman, of latino and white descent himself, has become a racial hero and societal pariah in the same vein as Nathan Bedford Forrest or William Zantzinger. Martin, on the other hand, harkens back to Emmett Till, another black teen murdered by two white men who took offense to his wolf whistling at a white woman while visiting his cousins in Mississippi. Till was brutally beaten and shot in the head. His body was disposed of in a river, and images of his open casket funeral laid the ugly side of racism out for the world to see.

It is a tragic comparison, but a frank one, and one we must face if we are to transform the racist reality that we still find ourselves in with a just and equal one. These actions are not the end. Activists are planning to renew much needed work against these issues to build a movement that can take on the system once and for all.

Originally Written for Streetvibes. A very abbreviated version appeared in SocialistWorker.org