“Justice,” called one man walking up Broadway Sunday afternoon.
“Justice!” screamed the crowd around him.
In an unpermitted march that took to the streets, an estimated 8,000 people rallied for Trayvon Martin in the wake of a jury decision that found his killer, George Zimmerman, not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter. A simple call-and-response of “Justice … justice” or “Justice for … Trayvon Martin” could be heard in similar marches around the country. But in the wake of what many see as an unjust jury decision in what is commonly called an unjust judicial system, many are left polarized, wondering what justice actually looks like.
For one group of girls videotaping a march for Martin on 145th Street in Harlem, simply the vision of people of color protesting in the streets was justice enough.
“Yes!” screamed one girl. “This is justice.”
But her response prompted a couple protestors to break into tears. “This is not justice,” someone yelled from the crowd. “This is only anger.”
The crowd continued its chant, “Justice for … Trayvon Martin.”
That anger that has now begun to manifest into many forms of action separate from the many marches and rallies in the streets. “In these most challenging of times, we are called upon to act. We must move from outrage to action. It starts today with the NBA and you! We urge the Department of Justice to act,” read a statement from the National Bar Association, calling for lawyers to join the organization in Miami on July 27 and 29 to collectively address the situation. “The [Justice] Department can still address the violation of Trayvon’s most fundamental civil right—the right to life”
Many are calling on the Department of Justice to take action. The National Action Network has called for 100 vigils on Saturday, July 20, to urge the Justice Department to open a civil rights case. One of the most popular pushes for the Department of Justice to take action is a petition from Moveon.org and the NAACP, which crashed the organization’s website because of the number of people rushing to sign.
The petition statement calls on the Department of Justice to take action and file civil rights charges against Zimmerman in order to protect “the most fundamental of civil rights—the right to life.” [[ED: STATEMENT FROM NBA ABOVE SAYS THE SAME THING]] The organizations got their sites back up and running and the petition had over 1 million signatures as of press time.
“We fight to roll back ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws and pass powerful anti-racial profiling ordinances, and do whatever we must to finally end the wars that are killing so many children in our neighborhoods,” wrote NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous. Other groups like Florida’s Dream Defenders, a youth and student group that provides training and organizes around nonviolent civil disobedience, are calling for more direct action. On Tuesday, July 16, the Dream Defenders staged an indefinite sit-in at the Florida State Capitol.
“We are here because Trayvon can’t be,” reads the group’s statement. “We are here to honor the memory of Trayvon Martin and pay respects to his family. This tragedy serves as a vivid reminder of the pain felt by our communities, in which we are profiled, criminalized and targeted. Unless we take action, nothing will change.”
The group says they “will stay here as long as we see fit in defense of our rights as citizens, voters and human beings,” and is calling for Florida Gov. Rick Scott to call a special session of the Florida Legislature to address what they call the “Trayvon Martin tragedy: Stand Your Ground vigilantism, racial profiling and a war on youth that paints us as criminals, and funnels us out of schools and into jails.”
Continuing to channel the tactics used in the 1960s and 1970s, other protestors are beginning to stage boycotts for Martin.
At his concert in Quebec City on Sunday, Stevie Wonder said, “I decided today that until the Stand Your Ground law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again.” He went on to extend his boycott to all states where the law exists. “What we can do is we can let our voices be heard, and we can vote in our various countries throughout the world for change and equality for everybody. That’s what I know we can do.”
Athletes have begun to spread the idea of boycotting as well. U.S. Olympic boxer Terrell Gausha said he will never wear the American flag on his uniform again and told TMZ, “How can I wear my stars and stripes proudly in a country where they make a big deal out of Mike Vick fighting dogs, but not a young, innocent Black male’s life?”
One group, Stand Down for Trayvon Martin, is calling for every Black man in the country to boycott their jobs on Sept. 6 to “show the world that our voices, bodies, efforts labor and lives matter … Instead, we will use this time to connect with our families, perform service in our communities or find something to do to show that we are important to America.”
Black men across the country are getting on board with this stand down. Some community groups are making moves to extend this boycott into a three-day truce called “Guns Down for Trayvon,” Sept. 6-8, among gang members in New York City. Stand Down for Trayvon also urges NFL players to participate, saying if football players were to participate, it would alter the BCS and NFL standings for the entire season, forcing commentators to talk about Martin for the entire year.
“It won’t be just Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars, it won’t just be Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes. It will be your doctors, your nurses, your garbage collectors, your engineers standing down for Trayvon Martin, proving that our voices, our bodies, our lives matter,” according to a video for the campaign.
While boycotts, sit-ins and petitions have proven effective in the past, still other activists are saying a petition or any form of protest is not enough. The Stop Mass Incarceration Network stated, “The whole damned system is guilty,” and Trayvon Martin protestors in Harlem agreed on Sunday.
“The truth is, this system is structured around race. A new constitution can be made,” said one protestor speaking in a march that had stopped outside of Harlem Hospital. “Can it?” he called to the crowd of about 400 people of color.
“Yes,” they responded.
“If a new constitution can be made, that means we need a new constitution in the states.”
While many have decried this sentiment as extreme or implausible, it exemplifies the frustration that people of color are facing in protesting the racist institutions in this county.
“We need a full takedown, or like a boycott, of the [judicial] system,” said 16-year-old Karim, talking about the Zimmerman case Tuesday outside the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem.
Activists from various groups from around the city met Tuesday and pointed out that to change the justice system, you have to start with achievable goals. These included a united criticism of the culture and acceptance of policing in the United States and a targeting of groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has pushed for laws like stop-and-frisk around the country. ALEC is a “nonpartisan, individual membership organization of state legislators that favors federalism and conservative public policy solutions,” reads the group’s website.
It has only been a few days since the Zimmerman verdict and hundreds of actions have already been planned; thousands of organizers have begun to coordinate their plans and millions of people have spoken out already. Only time will tell if they get justice, whatever that may look like.
“Instead of a moment of silence, we raise our voices together,” wrote youth, quoting Audre Lorde, who were attending the Black Youth Project in Chicago last weekend. “Our silence will not protect us. We are young leaders standing on the shoulders of our ancestors, carrying the historical trauma embedded in a legal system that will not protect us. We are the legacy of Black resilience that compels us to fight for our lives.”