A couple of days ago I was talking to an old friend and chess partner who lives out on the Rockaways about the George Zimmerman trial. He had trouble understanding why I was so sure that Trayvon Martin’s killer would go free. He referred to all of the problems with the defense that came up on almost a daily basis on MSNBC, CNN and other cable stations except for the racist Fox News. Zimmerman was told by the cops not to follow Martin. Zimmerman’s injuries were superficial. Zimmerman demonstrated implicitly racist animosity telling the cops that “they” always get away with it. But in the final analysis, I was sure that none of this would matter. Instead, racist solidarity would trump all evidence. An all-white jury stuck up for one of their own. Additionally, the cops that the prosecution lawyers called upon as witnesses effectively functioned as defense witnesses since they obviously thought it was a good thing that a Black youth was terminated. After all, anybody walking around in a hoodie is looking for trouble.
It is very likely that if Trayvon Martin’s parents were less ready to stand up to racist inertia in Florida, the case never would have come to trial. Three weeks after he was killed, the media began to take notice. The N.Y. Times reported on March 17, 2012 that the chief of the Sanford police saw no reason to arrest Zimmerman:
”The evidence doesn’t establish so far that Mr. Zimmerman did not act in self-defense,” Chief Bill Lee of the Sanford police said this week, responding to why Mr. Zimmerman had not been arrested. He said he would welcome a federal investigation. ”We don’t have anything to dispute his claim of self-defense at this point.”
A month after making this statement, Lee resigned after the city fathers realized that Lee was far too antagonistic a figure in a period when the spotlight was being turned on their town.
Sanford has a long history of bigotry, starting with its namesake Henry Sanford, a nineteenth century orange grower who advocated sending Blacks back to Africa in order to “draw the gathering electricity from the black cloud spreading over the southern states,
In 1947 Jackie Robinson was to play on an integrated minor league team in preparation for his start with the Brooklyn Dodgers but when the white citizens found out they came out to the stadium and physically blocked the team from taking the field.
While there were never any lynchings or cross-burnings like there were in Mississippi, the reality of life is that racism pervaded city life in the same fashion as it did in cities like New York or Boston. There’s plenty of evidence of that in Patricia Dillon’s article “Civil Rights and School Desegregation in Sanford” that appeared in the Winter 1998 edition of The Florida Historical Quarterly.
In addition to citing the Jackie Robinson incident that has been referred to frequently on the Web, she points to less well-known but drearily familiar assaults on racial equality.
On September 25, 1950, citizens jammed the city council office to protest the re-zoning of a white neighborhood to accommodate black housing. A delegation of white citizens presented the council with a petition containing over two hundred signatures objecting to the proposed zoning program. The Sanford Housing Authority quickly capitulated to the white residents’ demands and revoked its zoning recommendation.
This, of course, is the same thing that would happen in Levittown, Long Island where Blacks were prevented from owning low-cost homes as part of the post-WWII suburban utopia.
Blacks were also blocked from using recreational facilities available to whites but were even ready to accept them on a “separate but equal basis”. Dillon reports:
The most contentious disagreement between the white and black communities continued to revolve around the use of recreational facilities. The minimal funding appropriated for black playgrounds and recreational centers failed to match those that the city allocated to the white football fields, swimming pool, civic center, and baseball diamonds. In the late 1950s, African Americans demanded either the integration of the superior white facilities or the construction of “separate but equal” recreational centers.
In July 1958, between forty and fifty black teenagers marched on the Sanford Civic Center’s Youth Wing. Though the Center allowed blacks daytime use of the facilities for recreational activities, officials barred them from entering the building at night for social functions. Within ten minutes after the teenagers reached the Center, Police Chief Roy Williams disbanded the group. He recounted: “There was no disorder. All of the Negro youth left in an orderly manner when told they were approaching the problem in the wrong manner.”
Eventually the civil rights movement gathered enough strength so that de jure segregation was made illegal. Sanford no longer had Jim Crow but residential de facto segregation kept the town as divided as ever, just as is the case with most northern cities.
The elimination of de jure segregation in the 1960s, followed by the election of Black politicians in significant numbers crowning with the election of Barack Obama has led many to believe that we were living in a post-racial society. Determined to maintain this fiction, the judge in the George Zimmerman trial ruled out any reference to racial profiling.
Despite all the blather about a post-racial America, racial inequality is as deep as ever. Today Juan Cole blogged about Whites and African-Americans by the numbers. Those numbers were most revealing.
- Average household net worth of whites: $110,000.
- Average household net worth of African-Americans: $5000
- 1 in every 15 African American men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men
The ruling class was most adroit in selecting Barack Obama as president who has kept Black Americans in a state of stupor approximating Odysseus’s crew’s encounter with the Lotus Eaters, an island-bound people whose diet functioned as a narcotic, lulling those who ate there to sleep in peaceful apathy.
In 2009, I wrote a review of David Roediger’s “How Race Survived U.S. History: from settlement and slavery to the Obama phenomenon” for Swans titled “Are We In A Post-Racial America?” I urge everybody to check out Roediger’s book that I described in my concluding paragraphs:
Despite the Democratic Party’s reputation for opposing racism, given a new lease on life with the election of Barack Obama, there are indications that not much has changed since the mid-19th century. The Democratic Leadership Council emerged in the post-Reagan era in order to woo the white “Reagan Democrat” back into the fold, which meant backing politicians like Bill Clinton who offered only the most tepid resistance to Republican assaults on affirmative action and who scuttled Aid to Dependent Children, a welfare measure that was perceived (incorrectly) as favoring people of color.
Even under the “post-racial” epoch of Barack Obama, there are few signs that the Democratic Party is willing to attack the institutional basis of racism as long as the party is under the control of Wall Street banks, real estate developers, and other sectors of the capitalist economy that prosper on the super-exploitation of non-white workers. Obama signaled his intention to adhere to the status quo even before he became president. In his speech to the 2004 Democratic Party convention, he stated “Go into the [blue] collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you they don’t want their tax money wasted by a welfare agency or the Pentagon.” Considering how welfare budgets have been slashed in the past 25 years or so while the Pentagon drains tax coffers in order to fend off one enemy or another overseas (mostly people of color in the colonial world), Obama’s remarks can only be considered cheap demagogy.
Furthermore, his willingness to condemn Jeremiah Wright for alluding to the truths self-evident to everybody in the black community and receiving a scholarly treatment in Roediger’s book demonstrate that the task is the same as it was from the beginning: to unite the victims of the capitalist system against those who benefit from it. Since we have hundreds of millions that we can count on eventually against a tiny minority, our final victory is assured as long as we have the courage to march forward without illusions in temporary fixes.
This morning I heard the pundits on various Sunday morning talk shows stating that the Justice Department has plans to prosecute George Zimmerman for “hate crimes”. I will defer judgment on its effectiveness until the wheels begin to move, but I will say this. It is incumbent on the mass movement, especially its Black vanguard, to raise hell. If it took protests to bring Zimmerman to trial in the first place, it will take even more vociferous and more massive protests to put him in prison for the decades-long sentence he deserves.
The time for eating Lotuses is over.