Marching Toward Tomorrow with Trayvon on Our Minds

feature image copyright Kyoko Takenaka 2013


Photo Copyright Kyoko Takenaka 2013

A gathering of hundreds turned into a march of thousands Sunday in New York City, where there was a mass gathering in Union Square to rally against Saturday’s verdict in the Zimmerman trial.

George Zimmerman, as all we know by now, was found not guilty for the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Martin was unarmed and alone when he was shot in the chest by Zimmerman in February 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Although many are rightfully appalled by the verdict, few who have encountered or observed this country’s (in)justice system can truly consider themselves shocked. In a nation whose pre-eminence relies on the fragile balance between White Supremacy and mass complacency towards it and calls that balance “justice,” it should come as no great surprise when Black bodies are disregarded as valid.

If indeed, America’s dominance relies on that delicate balance, it’s safe to say that Sunday, we began to tip the scales. I have yet to find truly accurate or consistent numbers that reflect the turnout of the march, so for now let’s leave it at “enough to shut down Times Square.” Protestors took the streets at about 6:30pm for an un-permitted march that snaked through the streets, weaving through cars, buses, and trucks, soliciting support from drivers, tourists, and residents, some of whom left their posts on the sidewalks to join the thousands. A little before 9, the march entered Times Square, rallying around various speakers posted on tables, mailboxes, and lamp posts, holding the space until 9:30 when the crowd began to dwindle.

Exhausted after three hours of marching, many headed home, while a few hundred marched on to Harlem – the entire marched covered upwards of 100 blocks – almost six miles over the course of 12 hours.


Photo Copyright Kyoko Takenaka 2013

The protest was entirely nonviolent, except of course for the part of the NYPD, who stalked participants through the Upper East Side, pepper spraying a woman (who went on to rejoin the march) on Lexington and making about a dozen arrests.

While this action was scheduled in direct response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, this mass movement was of course provoked by much, much more. In a gathering of thousands, we found a reflection of ourselves. In a demonstration that encompassed a stronger, vaster presence than we ever could have imagined, we found a physical manifestation of our private grief, fear, sorrow, and rage.


Photo Copyright Kyoko Takenaka 2013

We walked through our city full of fury because the verdict of the Zimmerman trial gave us evidence of what we always knew: that that some lives were not meant for this system, or rather, this system was simply not meant to protect certain lives. We knew always some are more valuable than others, that our justice system is a painful misnomer, that many of us – especially those who are young and Black – are unsafe in our own homes.

But we know something now that we didn’t always know before: we are not alone.

Katrina is the newest editor for {Young}ist. You can follow them on Twitter @KCDanger.

Originally published on {Young} Republished with permission.

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  1. I have to admit, I am a bit disturbed by the tone I am seeing all over AS lately. I really enjoy the commentary that is provided by the dedicated writers and staff.

    However, is it not possible to really focus on matters of race in this country without also trying to override the “innocent until proven guilty” justice system?

    I understand that this is a tragedy, and it is in every way. Trayvon Martin never got to go home, speak to his parents, siblings, or friends. He didn’t get a second chance. I understand how that is horrid and painful.

    At the same time, that is insufficient reason to find someone else guilty. I am seeing over and over again that it is illogical that he got off without a murder charge and how this is evidence of race bias in this country, but I have yet to hear a cogent explanation why. I have looked through the details of the case, and it’s really fuzzy. In a system where you need to be beyond reasonable doubt to convict, the evidence that there is is not sufficient to warrant a conviction for second-degree murder. Am I missing something? I would love to understand why everyone here seems so certain that this was a miscarriage of justice.

    *I am not saying that Zimmerman is innocent; for all I know he may have executed Martin maliciously. All I can speak to, however, is the evidence, because that is how our justice system is built and the evidence that there is is simply very fuzzy and does not overwhelmingly force you to one conclusion. Without enough evidence, I would argue that those who are certain that Zimmerman committed murder (legal definition) are showing considerable bias against Zimmerman and leaving fairness behind them.

    • The question of whether he executed him maliciously would have spoken to the charge of second-degree murder, but he was also acquitted of manslaughter, which requires only for the jury to decide that Zimmerman put himself in a situation culminated in Trayvon’s death. It’s pretty unclear in what way anyone could reasonably doubt that, given that Zimmerman disobeyed police in order to follow Martin with a loaded gun.

      Also, to be honest, no, it’s not possible to focus on matters of race in this country without interrogating the way that “innocent until proven guilty” works, because it’s measurably clear that white people or white-passing people are much more likely to actually be presumed innocent, whereas people of color are almost uniformly presumed guilty.

      • Not to mention, Zimmerman made a pretty clear assumption that Trayvon was guilty of something when he decided to target him.

    • I read in a recent article and I think it explains a lot about the anger backing the case as well as the verdict.

      “Think about it: We’re told over and over that if Zimmerman was afraid of Martin, according to Florida law, he had the right to put a bullet in the chamber of his concealed handgun, get out of his car after being told not to by the 911 dispatcher and follow and confront Martin and shoot him to death.
      At the same time, we are told that Martin, who had far greater reason to fear Zimmerman, practically and for reasons of American history, did not have the right to confront his stalker, stand his ground and defend himself, including by using his fists. We are told that this was entirely unjustified and by doing so, Martin justified his own execution.”

    • “Innocent until proven guilty” is indeed a critical core that we need to protect, but a big part of the problem here was exactly *who* got to be presumed innocent: the law, the police, and the jury all granted Zimmerman the right to be presumed innocent, but not Trayvon Martin. Given Florida law (caveat that I’m no lawyer), it appears that the jury was technically correct in their verdict, which does not mean that they could not have convicted Zimmerman of manslaughter. But the fundamental structure of “stand your ground” laws is grounded in assumptions of white male right to violence when threatened by anyone else. Given how steeped American history and culture are in racism, there can be no genuinely clean laws and legal proceedings when racial differences are involved. Sadly.

    • Levi, the Martin/Zimmerman case is not a miscarriage of justice; rather, it is exactly what justice looks like in America. In a country where a Black man is killed every 28 hours by police or a vigilante because being Black automatically makes you dangerous, suspicious, and guilty, it’s almost a joke to say that due process is valid, especially when many of those responsible for the deaths often walk free. In my eyes, these are less like random killings and more like executions without trial, often at the hands of the state. If anyone is going to argue that one must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before convicted, then they must hold this belief to be true across the board.

      As to the question of whether or not innocence and race are inextricably tied, this post from yesterday is full of links that explain why a critical analysis of race in pretty much any political discussion in this country, especially those that have to do with the legal system and law enforcement. The odds are stacked, and the legal system enforces that.

      • I completely agree, Katrina. No matter how you break down the statistics they are horrifying. Non-White (predominantly Black) individuals, mostly young men, are stopped and frisked more, harassed by law officers more, arrested more often, found guilty more often, and given longer and harsher sentences than White individuals, and that is for taking the same actions.

        With that said, I am not claiming that race is not an issue in the legal system in this country. Of course, I would be careful about making claims about these being “executions without trials”, since that signifies intent, which it is hard to fine evidence of.

        Again, I personally study bias, implicit bias, prejudice, and stereotypes in regard to race, and specifically have studied the “shooter bias”, which tries to understand the psychological reasons for the amount of unarmed Black men shot by police officers and security individuals. However, knowing that bias exists is not reason enough to state with certainty that the outcome in this specific case was a biased one and a verdict we should be “rightfully appalled” about. There is simply not enough evidence to state that with certainty, and in this country we have decided, as a society, that when we don’t know beyond reasonable doubt, we do not punish someone.

        Of course, I am sure that in many cases we don’t follow through and show bias in sentencing people who should not have been. Still, the solution to wrongful incarceration and conviction in another case is not to wrongfully incarcerate George Zimmerman.

        If, as you say, the law is the issue, I imagine you are talking about either, 1) the law of self-defense, or 2) the innocent until proven guilty legal standard. Personally I support the need for a law that permits self-defensive actions. I think that on a case by case basis it is important to make sure that defensive responses are proportionate, insofar as someone can judge in the moment, but on the whole I approve of such laws. I also, sometimes begrudgingly, support the need for the “innocent until proven guilty” legal standard. Sure that sometimes means that people I believe are guilty walk free, but I accept that justice was served. There are certainly cases where I believe that something was wonky about the verdict, where the decision makes no sense based on the evidence, and I would protest that strongly. Here though, have seen the evidence and read reports and listened to interviews with police, witnesses, and 911 calls, and it really appears to be simply a case of where there is not enough evidence to find Zimmerman guilty of either count.

  2. Love this post, and really wish I could have been there. Thanks for writing Katrina, it was wonderful as always

  3. I haven’t followed the case in detail, but I did hear Zimmerman’s brother-in-law being interviewed on NPR, where he said that it wasn’t until NBC covered the case that the idea that this was a racially-motivated killing was brought up.

    Then again, the brother-in-law also mentioned that Trayvon Martin was “armed” with the pavement.

    • We can’t try to stop it from happening again if we can’t explain why it happened in the first place

  4. The amount of lack in knowledge of how the system works in here is mind-boggling. To get manslaughter to stick you still have to prove that there was no self defense and the evidence was severely lacking before I even get into the level of corruption shown by the state attorney and the judge on this case who were so obviously trying to hang this case. The state attorney is supposed to be unbiased and was calling Zimmerman a ‘murderer’ after the not guilty verdict and fired her IT manager for blowing the whistle on obfuscation of evidence to the defense. Not also including the way Obama used the case for personal political gain by fomenting hatred and the judge who was badgering Zimmerman to take the stand.

    • The amount of hateful bias built into how the system works here is mind-boggling. I understand what you’re saying, I know what manslaughter is. Let’s please not pretend that all justice in America is served blindly, fairly, and distributed equally.

      • I completely agree, but I would extend that as well. Let’s not pretend that ALL justice in America is served with bias, inequality, and prejudice.

        • If it is a case of being in jail for non-violent crimes it is more than likely linked to drug charges and in such a case the war on drugs is ridiculous to begin with and is a separate issue from violent crime.

  5. Evidence of Zimmerman’s racism has surfaced, and many comments about his motivation for “self-defense” drip racial bias.

  6. Katrina, I just have to say “thank you” for writing this and for trying to keep this conversation going. I’m disappointed by some of the derailing I’ve noticed in this thread and others, but you handle it like a champ.

  7. great work, ñ!

    i think it’s super healthy that as queer people we approach this tragedy with a dash of intersectionality because it is a political issue that affects us too: the violent targeting of specific bodies, the systemic neglect and lack of justice when we fight for our lives, and the cultural JUSTIFICATION of that violence upon us.

    it’s really sad to see people jump to defend a “nation of laws” that up until recently viewed our life partnerships and families as illegal and illegitimate. remember that thing were you couldn’t get married and shit?

    Trayvon Martin was grabbing some snacks and wearing a hoodie, he was attacked, stood up for himself and was consequently murdered all for being “suspicious”.

    Cece McDonald was walking down the street with some friends one night, some racists outside of a bar attacked her for being a black transwoman, she stood up for herself and now she’s in jail. she was suspicious of being black AND queer.

    we are not disconnected from these struggles, because we live in a system that does not value our lives as queer people, as women of all spectrums, as people of color, as workers, as mothers.
    don’t defend zimmerman or what maybe feels like a threat to the privileges you might enjoy because of this “nation of laws”, defend the right for young people to LIVE.

    • Precisely. I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means for people who embody “blackness” and “black masculinity”.

      If black male bodies are viewed as suspicious, criminal and disposable, what does that mean for genderqueer black bodies? What consequences is someone who presents as MOC facing?

      These are the conversations I wish we were having more.

  8. Hate to be that person but I’d love to know what rule I somehow broke to get my comments deleted. I don’t remember what I wrote except that the mainstream media over-sensationalized this particular case for ratings, rather than discussing broader social context, and perhaps something about my perspective as a half-black American…

    • it’s likely that the whole thread was scrubbed (your comment was a reply). I can link you to the comment policy, but the gist of it is that we delete a thing and the responses to that thing, otherwise the thread becomes confusing. I hope this helps.

      • Alright, cool (although the comments below were replies to my replies so that confused me more, but I did finally find the comment policy). I cannot remember what the exact context was anyway, so if this is now useless feel free to delete it too.


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