Monday, March 26, 2012

Imagining Justice for Trayvon Martin (and All of Us)

I stopped by the Million Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin after work today, my hoodie up in solidarity.  There was a huge crush of people and an ABC7 van on Hill just south of Fifth, and the sea of bodies filling the square was heartening to see. I walked my bike carefully through the crowd, careful about keeping people from getting poked by my pedals. I was below the stage, separated by a concrete divider. I stood up on the rail so that I could see above the wall and catch a glimpse of the speakers, trying to listen to what they were saying, taking in the surroundings for the short time I could be there. 
Skittles & Tea 03/26/12
I've been in a few conversations about Trayvon Martin's killing in the last week, and it was only yesterday that it was pointed out to me that there is a language of innocence used as a tool to evoke  an emotional response about the injustice of this boy's killing. Someone presented the question: If he weren't holding only Skittles and iced tea, would that have made it okay? Would we accept this kind of killing if a knife or a bag of weed had been found on him? 

I hope that the answer to these questions is yes, that we would be just as outraged by it, that we would be as pained by it, but the fact is that young people of color are killed every day, not all of them "innocent" (some of them working to change their lives and their communities)-- what does it mean for us to use the language of "innocence" to decry the Trayvon's horrific killing? The deeper issue is not whether he was innocent or whether, by some action in his young life, he deserved to be killed-- it is that there is a devaluation of the lives of people of color, particularly young men of color, in this country.

What would justice for Trayvon Martin look like? This is a difficult question. I recently listened to Grace Lee Boggs talk about the need for us to re-imagine everything. Would it look simply like George Zimmerman behind bars? That is part of the process of it, I think, but I also recognize that it is important to be critical of the prison system. Merely punishing those who violate laws, without addressing the core issues that lead up to that violation, does nothing for our society. And we have a criminal "justice" system that focuses on punishment (and profit) rather than rehabilitation. Can we open our ideas about justice to encompass not only retribution, but transformation?

I think justice for Trayvon Martin would look like George Zimmerman standing up in public and exposing himself to the pain and outrage he has caused; it would look like a deep recognition of his offense; it would look like him apologizing deeply and sincerely for killing Trayvon and working to understand what caused his actions and to work with others on that same path of recognition. 

Most of all, it would look like society taking responsibility for creating and perpetuating an environment in which people of color are criminalized, dehumanized, and devalued, and to engage in dismantling that system. 

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