Protests Break Out All Across the Country: We Don't Accept the Verdict!

July 19, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


Saturday night, July 13, in Sanford, Florida, hundreds of people of all nationalities gathered outside the Seminole Courthouse as the jury deliberated. When the NOT GUILTY verdict came down, there was instant outrage. Some people could just not even believe it, that something so wrong had just happened. And across the country, millions who had been riveted to the TV, watching the trial, hoping for justice, were also stunned and angered.

5,000 people marched from Union Square to Times Square in New York, blocking traffic. Photo: Michael Fleshman/Flickr

Within 48 hours protests broke out all across the United States. There were large demonstrations, with hundreds and thousands taking to the streets in major cities—including New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco/Bay Area, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Seattle. And in smaller cities from coast to coast, including Raleigh, Little Rock, Baltimore, Fresno, Carbondale, New Orleans, Providence, Austin, Charlottesville, Greenville, Albany, and Green Bay, crowds of dozens to hundreds also manifested their outrage.

In a number of cities people blocked traffic during rush hour, disrupting business as usual. Some 5,000 people took over the streets in New York City, forcing traffic to a standstill as the march went from Union Square to Times Square. In Los Angeles, 200 protesters blocked highway 10, taking over five lanes of traffic, for 30 minutes. The LAPD issued a citywide tactical alert and deployed cops in riot gear who fired non-lethal rounds into the crowd. In the San Francisco/Bay Area there were three straight days of protests—in Oakland, there were reports of demonstrators breaking windows, burning U.S. flags and starting street fires.

These protests were by and large very diverse—old and young, people of different nationalities and different sections of society. And there was a common deep, deep feeling that people brought to these outpourings. For some there was almost a disbelief—that something like this could be happening "in this day and age of a Black president." Many had thought that "for sure Zimmerman would be found guilty." But now, this so clearly unjust verdict was challenging the notion that "we live in a post-racial society" and "we’ve come so far." At the protest in New York City, a white middle class woman, who looked to be in her 40s, had come by herself from New Jersey—she said she was stunned that a verdict like this could happen in this country and that she had come, in part to let it be known that people like her are outraged too.

There were expressions of sadness and people talked about how this is a "tragedy." But the reality is this was NOT a tragedy—it was a cold-blooded CRIME. And others were clearly NOT in the mood to be sad or silent—but instead acted out to show their utter outrage and anger at the total injustice of the murder of Trayvon and that his killer has been allowed to walk free.

When Trayvon Martin was first murdered, people around the country immediately compared this modern day lynching to the 1954 murder of Emmett Till. And at protests in the wake of the verdict many people linked this most recent outrage to the whole history of the oppression of Black people in the USA—and to the present day reality of how Black youth are criminalized in society.

At a rally and speak-out in Harlem one person after another got up to talk about how this verdict has made them, their son and grandsons, and all Black youth the targets of a racist society. One woman said, "They are telling us we might as well be in prison or slavery times—the white man thinks they can kill our children, like selling them into slavery back then, and we are supposed to keep our mouths shut. I’m sick of it. I can’t stand this. This is too much."

In Chicago a 77-year-old retired teacher said she was "absolutely horrified" at the verdict. "I feel it puts every single black child in jeopardy from any vigilante who may have a gun. It just is inexcusable. We can’t just leave it at that. Something has to come of it that’s positive."

A cousin of Emmett Till, who also spoke in Chicago, said that "We’ve gone from approved killings in Mississippi in 1955 to approved killings in Florida in 2013. [Tilll’s] murder illuminated what was being done to Blacks in 1955. Now with Trayvon Martin, it’s also another illumination. It’s demonstrating to our young people that your rights are being stripped away. It’s open season on Black children."

In Atlanta, a woman who was driving by one of the protests stopped and joined the rally to testify about the Moore’s Ford Bridge lynching of 1946 and linked it to the modern-day lynching of Trayvon. She is part of a struggle to get the investigation of long-known evidence against the people responsible for this lynching of two Black couples in 1946 which is the last recorded case of a mass, public lynching where over 30 people participated in the gruesome murders.

In the midst of this sharp exposure that points to the very nature of Amerikkka, some people have instead been putting out that what’s needed is gun control or what we should really worry about is "Black on Black crime" or getting rid of the "stand your ground law"—pointing things in the wrong direction and ignoring the reality that what’s really been revealed by the murder of Trayvon and the acquittal of Zimmerman—is that we live in a whole country and system that has developed from day one and continues to function with white supremacy built into its very foundation.

In a number of cities, where the Stop Mass Incarceration Network and revolutionaries were in the house, people took up the chant, "Trayvon Martin Did Not Have to Die, We All Know the Reason Why, The Whole Damn System Is Guilty!"

At many of the demonstrations people wore hoodies and carried bags of Skittles, and a common chant around the country was "We are all Trayvon!" Students and youth came with signs that said, "That could have been me!" Mothers came with their young sons, speaking out and carrying signs, saying: "That could have been my son!" In Charlottesville, two young Black kids, 11 and 12 years old, organized the protest of a couple dozen people a day after the verdict came down and got their grandmother to help them. In Washington, D.C. a woman told the crowd of 900 people, "My son looks a lot like Trayvon Martin, and he's only six. And I thought, in ten years, is someone going to profile him? What's going to happen, as he's 10, 11, 13, 14? My grandmother fought for this cause. My mother fought for this cause. I didn't think that in 2013 that I would be here fighting here for justice. Because we don't have it."

There is a real sense among millions of people that this ugly verdict has put an even bigger target on the backs of Black and Latino youth and given an even brighter green light to racist vigilantes and police everywhere—to stalk, racially profile, stop and frisk, brutalize, shoot and kill any youth who they deem a "fucking asshole" who "shouldn’t get away with it," a "suspect" just because they are young, Black, Latino and perhaps wearing a hoodie. But people are also really grappling with the question over how we should really deal with this horrendous and dangerous reality. Some are trying to figure out how to "survive within it." Mothers talked about how they are now having to even more "have that talk with their sons" about "how to act" so that they won’t get killed. But the bigger question does need to be asked: Why should anyone even have to try and have to "survive" within this horrendous reality? What kind of society is it where mothers have to even do this? Why should anyone put up with this when in fact things don’t have to be this way! NO—We must refuse to tolerate and put up with this whole situation!

A number of protests targeted courthouses—as symbols of the whole INjustice system responsible for the verdict. In Gainesville, when 150 people marched towards the Department of Justice office, the cops tried to disrupt the protest by confiscating megaphones. But people were not intimidated and when they reached the building they went into the building, climbed three flights of stairs and 50 people occupied the Department of Justice field office while others rallied outside. Some people are feeling like the "system of justice in this country has failed us." One 19-year-old in Atlanta said, "I came out today because a great deal of injustice has been done and I'm very disappointed at our justice system; I'm just disappointed in America." Some are calling for the Department of Justice to now take up an investigation.

In Detroit speakers included families of Black youth who had been murdered by the police—including some who exposed how the U.S. INjustice system does NOT deliver any kind of justice. People gathered to call for "Justice for Trayvon Martin" and to also call for justice for 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was shot to death while she was sleeping during a police raid in 2010. And now, three years later, on June 16, a judge declared a mistrial in the trial of the only cop to be charged in the case and no other cop involved in the raid or any responsible officials have even been charged. Aiyana’s grandmother, Mertilla Jones, who witnessed her death, spoke at the rally and vowed to stay in the fight for the long run. She said, "I’m out here to fight any way for the other Aiyanas that’s to come because it ain’t stop at just my grand-baby."

In Harlem people were very moved when Khorey Wise, one of the Central Park 5, stepped forward to speak at the rally—also giving a stark example of not only how the U.S. justice system cannot be relied on to deliver justice, but how it is part of a whole repressive apparatus that has railroaded and imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino youth. Wise was falsely convicted at age 16 together with four other youths, in the middle of a lynch mob atmosphere, for an attack on a young woman jogger that the police knew they did not commit—and was unjustly imprisoned for 14 years.

Millions of people also voiced their outrage at the verdict using social media. For example, some people posted the youtube video of "Strange Fruit" (not the Kanye West version!); others posted statistics about murders of unarmed Black people (including by police) as well as information about protests.

One correspondent to Revolution who follows music blogs noted that the posts they read were starting to change by Monday—that "people were still talking a lot about the verdict, but the line put out by Obama, et al that this is a country of laws, and we have to abide by the ruling but if you want things to change you have to elect different officials, etc. was beginning to get some traction, especially with the older people but with some of the younger musicians as well. By the middle of the day a lot of people were posting that this was about gun laws(!), downplaying the racism aspect."

In the hours after the verdict there was also lots of protests on Twitter from actors, musicians, athletes and other celebrities. Actress Ellen Page tweeted ""If u really believe racism isnt a massive problem, that the oppression of minorities is not a horrific and systemic issue. U R in denial." Miley Cyrus tweeted twice, "No justice. No peace. The world is a scary place." Rihanna tweeted: "A child was gunned down for no reason! And nothing about that sounds like murder? A system cannot fail those it was never built to protect" These tweets were one part of the way so many people, including influential people in different spheres of life, expressed their outrage at the not guilty verdict. 

On Sunday morning, right after the verdict, Young Jeezy uploaded a new track—"It's a Cold World (A Tribute to Trayvon Martin)." On Saturday night, immediately after the verdict came down, at a Q&A, Michael B. Jordan, who stars in the new film Fruitvale Station—about the Black youth Oscar Grant who was murdered by a white cop in 2009—said, "My heart hurts so bad right now. I wasn't going to come after I found out about George Zimmerman getting acquitted. It broke me up."

Some professional athletes sent tweets out against the verdict: Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat tweeted: "How do I explain this to my young boys????" Roddy White of the Atlanta Falcons wrote, "Fucking Zimmerman got away with murder today wow what kind of world do we live in." Marcus Vick, Michael Vick’s brother wrote, "My people's did 2 years over some bullshit when this dude took a human life. Y'all MF's sick." Marquise Goodwin of the Buffalo Bills wrote, "I'm in Florida now. Dk if I should walk around with a hoody here. Seems like it's just ok to get popped in this state!" Chris Baker of the Washington Redskins wrote, "He is guilty of something there is no way he should be a free man our Justice system is a joke I'm disgusted our system has failed us." Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins wrote, "America justice system is a joke."

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