The Economics Of Inequality: The Root Of The Problem In The Trayvon Martin Case

Flickr/werthmedia
Flickr/werthmedia

Sometimes when tragedy occurs, people come together. Sometimes it sparks dialogue and action and implement actual social change. The tragic death of Tryon Martin and subsequent trial of George Zimmerman can be one of those times. I am afraid, however, that we may be focusing on the wrong things.

Some of the comments and editorials on TV and especially the Internet before, during and especially after the trial are disturbing.

I have seen comments saying that Trayvon was asking for “what he got” as well as comments calling for “street justice” for Zimmerman. Comments focusing solely on race and making unsubstantiated assumptions about Zimmerman’s family (“This case is absolutely and utterly about race and has been since Zimmerman’s Peruvian mother inculcated him with thoughts of hatred against black people. That’s right, the woman who made George Zimmerman, and who made him very, very brown to boot, is the source of his deep, extensively documented hatred for black people” as an example). Comments and assumptions about Trayvon’s family. People going off the rails on both sides of the track. I am trying to find a moderate voice in the middle of this highly-emotionally charged chaos. And they are hard to find right now.

Racial and socio-economic politics are separate issues but are definitely intertwined. You generally can’t talk about one without the other. After years of working in community development and more higher education than was probably a good idea, I have come to believe that economic inequality, specifically Capitalism, is at the root of our problems today, including our modern racist society.

We will never know if a white kid dressed like Trayvon or a Peruvian Latino kid dressed like Trayvon would be alive today in the same scenario, so it’s counterproductive to assume that.

Racial profiling does play a part in this case. But the point is (which I have found is a dangerous to attempt to make, for anyone who says anything other than the status quo is automatically shut down and labeled a racist) that this case is more about economic class than race (though yes, those are interconnected). If Trayvon was wearing a suit and tie, would Zimmerman have approached him? If a white kid or Latino kid was wearing a hoodie, would Zimmerman have approached him? The real root problem is class. The real enemy, rich Capitalists of all color, are sitting back and loving every minute that we are busy being distracted by race and not organizing to tear down a system where the poor of all colors are seen as disposable.

The Donald Trumps AND the Herman Cains don’t give a fuck about the poor of any color.

My personal belief about this case is that it’s very, very complicated. You’ve got what’s legally right and you’ve got what’s just, which isn’t necessarily the same thing.

I think that a much smaller population of people actually watched the trial itself as opposed to those who only got their information and formed their opinions based on what they read on the Internet, saw on TV and what they’ve heard second-hand from friends. I think there is a big difference.

I think Zimmerman was sick of the break ins and crime in his neighborhood and was actively organizing to help stop that, just as people do in poor neighborhoods as well, regardless of race. I think there is nothing wrong with reporting suspicious activity, especially in a neighborhood where there had been a lot of criminal activity. If in fact Trayvon was walking around houses, looking around suspiciously as Zimmerman reported, then I see nothing wrong with reporting it. If he was just passing through, however, minding his own business and Zimmerman targeted him because he was young and black and wore a hoodie and “looked like a criminal, maybe” then that is wrong. You should report people based on actions, not looks alone.

We will never know which one of these scenarios is true. The Internet has decided that the second scenario is the factual one. Though people are rightly sick to death of racism and injustice, they are wrongly reacting on that assumption. It is disgusting that #IfIEverSeeZimmerman is trending on Twitter.

Either way, Zimmerman should never have approached Trayvon. 911 told him he didn’t have to follow him (which I took as “don’t follow him”) and he still did. Sick of the break ins and the actual criminals getting away before police could come, Zimmerman may have thought that he would make some sort of citizen’s arrest of someone he thought was a criminal because of a racial and socio-economic profiling. He looked like the kind of person that might break into your house, and he was going to grab him and hold him until the police came. He was wrong, Trayvon was innocent and not one that would go quietly when he did nothing wrong. Zimmerman should have stayed in the damn car and he is responsible to some degree for any consequences that may have followed.

Trayvon, however, did not have to beat the holy hell out of Zimmerman, which I believe he did. The majority of the witness testimony stated that the cries for help were from Zimmerman. Trayvon had every right to defend himself if Zimmerman approached him or put his hands on him, both under the legal term Florida has adopted as well as in my opinion, from a moral and street smart perspective.

I’ve been nearly mugged in Chicago a few times. On two occasions, I was walking home at night and a man began following me and approached me. It was clear to me that he meant me harm. I put my keys in my hand, a key sticking out of each knuckle, waited for him to put his hands on me, turned on him and quickly punched him two twice. Another time I was on the el train going home after a long day of rollerblading (shut up, it was the 90s). I had taken my rollerblades off and put them on my hands. It was late at night, the car was empty and a man who was definitely “up to no good” approached me. I hit him in the face with my rollerblade once, hard, knocking him down.

Both of my offensive self-defenses were enough to injure and incapacitate my would-be attackers long enough for me to get away, which I immediately did both times (the first, I ran, the second, I ran through from el car to el car until it stopped and I was able to get off the train).

What I didn’t do, and what Trayvon shouldn’t have done, is once you get those few self-defense punches in, continue to beat the person. And straddle them so they can’t get away while you continue to beat them, possibly to death. That is where I think there may have been a turning point for the jury.

If I had continued beating the man in the street or on the el to the point where he was gravely injured and even died, what would my trial look like? What would Trayvon’s if he had killed Zimmerman?

I think once Zimmerman was getting his ass kicked he thought “Oh shit, I thought I was being Mr. Police Man and now I’m in way over my head, I’m getting my ass kicked, and holy shit, I actually might die here” and shot and killed Trayvon in self-defense.

I won’t go into the gun argument here, but I will say if he wasn’t allowed to carry a weapon in the first place, this specific tragedy wouldn’t have happened. But, that not being the case, legally he was allowed to have a loaded weapon on him and he did what he felt he had to do to survive what might have been a lethal beating.

It’s just all so fucked up.

It’s not black and white (no pun intended, sigh). Zimmerman shouldn’t have followed and approached Trayvon. Trayvon had every right shouldn’t have beaten Zimmerman to the extent that he did. Legally, Zimmerman was determined to be not guilty of murder or manslaughter due to the way these crimes are legally defined. That’s true.

Race plays an important role in this case because race plays an important role in socio-economics. I believe that Zimmerman focused in on Trayvon because ultimately he was dressed like someone who was poor. Race only added to that assumption, though it was not the sole factor. I believe a white or Latino kid in the same outfit would have met the same fate. Why? Because he looked poor, “urban,” like someone who might break into your house and steal your stuff.

And THAT is what we should be focusing on. Why do people break into your house and steal your stuff? Because they need the money. Because they are trying to make it in this socially and economically inequitable world on way or another. And they are hated for it. Poor people are hated whether they are “ghetto blacks” or “poor white trash.” And “poor white trash” have more in common with poor blacks and poor Latinos and poor anybody than they do with the “Rich White Majority” (with rich minorities sprinkled in) who fuck us all. It is this that we have to learn and focus on. The poor and the middle class, regardless of race or gender, need to band together and try to resist the urge to point the finger at each other by focusing solely on race.

As far as justice, I think Zimmerman should have gotten some degree of jail time because he killed an innocent kid, ultimately as a consequence of his own stupid decision to approach him, regardless if his intentions were “good” (“I want to protect my community from more break ins,”) or “bad” (“I hate young/black/poor/punk-looking kids”). I can’t imagine what Trayvon’s family is going through and my heart goes out to them. I can’t imagine what Zimmerman’s family is going through and my heart goes out to them.

I hope we can turn this tragedy into something positive. Make no mistake: Racism is alive and well and we have a long way to go in this country. We should never stop fighting it. But I also hope we expand our understanding and fight to include economic justice which is at the root of the country’s problems. I hope the protests that are happening around the country focus both on race and on socio-economic justice. Hoodies, suits, blacks, whites, Latinos, everyone, together to make our society a more equitable place for everyone. TC mark

image – Flickr/@stwo

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