In N.Y., Trayvon’s Verdict Hits Close to Home

(Photo by Courtenay Brown via Amsterdam News)

Will Reese has spent weeks rallying for Trayvon Martin. After the “not guilty” verdict for George Zimmerman, Reese took to 125th Street in Harlem to protest. (Photo by Courtenay Brown via Amsterdam News)

When jurors found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the racial undertones and other perceived injustices that swept the case from Sanford, Fla. to national headlines, erupted again – this time in protests, campaigns, and writings, included in the pages of New York’s ethnic media from Amsterdam News to the Haitian Times, The FilAm and El Diario-La Prensa.

For two moms in New York, whose unarmed sons were shot and killed by NYPD officers, the case and verdict hit close to home, reports Amsterdam News’ Khorri Atkinson.

Valarie Bell, mother of Sean Bell, 23, who died during his bachelor party in South Jamaica, Queens, in November 2006 after plainclothes and undercover cops shot 50 bullets into the groom, claiming someone had a weapon, could not bring herself to watch the trial for the memories it would bring back. The officers were found not guilty.

“I could expect the outcome of Zimmerman’s case to end like this, based on the way the criminal justice system is going,” she added.

Like they have done with the Trayvon Martin case, activist Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network (NAN) and the NAACP have called on the U.S. Department of Justice to do a civil rights investigation into the death of Bell. His mother however remains cynical.

(…) she believes that justice will not be served, just as the justice department has declined to prosecute the NYPD in her son’s case.

According the Justice Department, there was insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges against New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers involved in the fatal shooting of Sean Bell.

“Since they found him not guilty in the State’s court, I think the same thing will happen at the federal level,” said Bell. “But, I am praying that same thing doesn’t happen.”

Bell said she told Rev. Sharpton to tell Trayvon’s parents not [to] give up and they should stand tall and keep fighting for whatever they can get out of it.

“I hope they will do something to keep his [Trayvon] name out there in his community, just as now we have a community center to keep Sean Bells’s name alive. My prayers are with them.”

Constance Malcolm lost her son, Ramarley Graham, 18, on February 2, 2012 after he was shot in his apartment by an undercover narcotics officer as his grandmother and 6-year-old brother looked on, 24 days before the shooting of Martin. The officer, charged with manslaughter, had the indictment thrown out by a judge.

“The not guilty verdict became the replay of the night Zimmerman took Trayvon’s life,” reads Malcolm’s email to the AmNews. “Please do not let this [happen] to Ramarley. Do not let Richard Haste [the police that shot Graham] walk free as did Zimmerman. Please continue to help us fight the fight. As you see, there is no justice but injustice.”

Prosecutors in Malcolm’s case have decided to reconvene a grand jury to consider whether to indict the officer who fired at Graham. Protestors outside the Bronx supreme criminal court on Sunday, July [14] in protest of the verdict in Zimmerman trial invited the crowd to join them in support of Malcolm on July 25th from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Sunday saw over 1,000 New Yorkers and others marching from Union Square up to Harlem (also covered by the Indypendent and Colorlines), reported by a plethora of media outlets. But among a smaller local protest, Amsterdam News‘ Courtenay Brown found two groups in Harlem divided over how people should respond.

After the verdict was announced on Saturday night, Will Reese, stood by the statue of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. on 125th Street in Harlem with his “Honk! Justice for Trayon” sign, continuing his weeks-long protests for the teenager.

Reese, an organizer with Revolution Newspaper, had more to say than just the words on his sign.

“Zimmerman walking free is vying an additional bulls-eye on the backs of Black and Latino youth,” Reese said. “If the people don’t stand up and deliver their own verdict of what happened, it is strengthening the George Zimmermans of the world.”

He was soon joined by at least 10 other Harlem residents, who chanted “No peace, no justice.” Nearby, chants of “Peace, no violence” echoed from a gathering of Street Corner Resources (SCR), an organization that provides education and job services. The two sides briefly sparred over what kind of actions protesters should take.

Founder and CEO of SCR Iesha Sekou told the AmNews that people like Reese needed to mobilize youth to do the right thing rather than incite them to anger.

“What we have to do is make peace in our community,” Sekou said. “I’m angry too but we don’t need our people to become arrested and incarcerated and damage relationships because of a verdict that we cannot control.”

Sekou recommended that people quell their anger by writing letters to their congressmen and wait for direction from NAN and the NAACP.

However, Reese was disappointed with the way SCR encouraged the community to react.

“It is insulting and a shame that people come out on the night the verdict was delivered and talk to people about what they shouldn’t do as opposed to standing out here with the people and saying ‘we don’t accept this,’ Reese said. “People want to do something and they’re right to want to do something.”

In addition to street rallies, protests also came in writing, including an opinion column entitled “The Fear That Killed Trayvon Martin is Real” by Jean McGianni Celestin, the senior writer at Haitian Times. In a blunt and brutal piece on living the black experience in the U.S., he writes about the verdict that freed Zimmerman:

 It reminded us that black people’s lives — even that of an innocent 17 year-old — are impermanent and dispensable. (…)

In case we had forgotten it, Saturday night’s verdict told us that we still lack full citizenship as human beings.

In almost every corner in America, blacks are hunted daily by law enforcement and citizens armed with White Privilege. They’re subject to perambulation and enquiry at every turn, in every space, at any moment.

Celestin reiterates that the shooting of Martin was not an isolated event, but rather a perpetual one.

Zimmerman’s actions on the night that he shot Martin with his 9mm handgun were not an isolated incident or a case of an overzealous night watchman in a Southern town, it was a reflection of what’s going on and of how white sees black in America. The residue is all around us. It’s on the tombs of Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Ousmane ZongoPatrick Dorismond, and the thousands who’ve been victimized by this form of domestic terrorism.

These actions, Celestin says, result from fear, the “fear of black skin.” It is fear that brings about the impulsive acts exemplified by the encounter between Zimmerman and Martin, and the ensuing chain of events. The darker the skin, the lesser the authority and the greater the threat perceived by mainstream society.

The fear that killed Trayvon Martin is real. It may sound counter-intuitive in a white-dominated society, but its evidence is clear. It’s possibly the only honest statement George Zimmerman gave when he claimed he was afraid of the unarmed teenager on the night of their encounter. Black people’s mere presence among whites creates a knee-jerk reaction that breeds the type of confrontation Zimmerman and Martin had that night. It’s rooted in the axiom that blacks are violent, can’t be trusted, and must be kept in their place. And though conservatives and Zimmerman-apologists have pointed to his Hispanic background to counter claims that racism played a role, the reality is Zimmerman’s skin color affords him authority when it comes to blacks.

Blackness in white spaces is seen as a threat to this privilege and creates angst along the fault line of the American way of life. It’s been contested with Black Codes, Jim Crow, Separate But Equal, and actions like what took place on the night of Trayvon Martin’s murder.

Hernan Hormillosa also penned a reaction piece that was published in The FilAm, entitled “I am not Trayvon Martin.” He’s not a black teenager – and certainly not one shot and killed – but he can “visualize the fear he must have shown on his face mixed with anger.”

As a Filipino with “an Asian face and a Hispanic name,” Hormillosa gets questioned and stared at thanks to his appearance, his accent and his skin.

Because my skin turns from off-white to brown with different shades as winter turns to spring and summer, I experienced getting different degrees of treatment by the same people at different seasons.

No one knows about his bachelor or master’s degree. But they think they know about his background. They make assumptions and act on them. To combat these experiences, Hormillosa tries to don an acceptable appearance.

I was once mistaken for a Chinese and labeled a “f_ _ _ing chink” by a drunk white man as I went to church. People invariably ask me where I come from because I have an Asian face and a Hispanic name, sometimes with suspicious stares. The hardest take was working in a clinic full of minorities. Since I was the only Filipino American, people would speak their native languages in front of me – everyday. Sometimes, I felt invisible and clueless in a Babel of voices I could not understand. Prejudice and racism cascaded down against me in a pecking order structured by the “dominant” white race and perpetuated by members of minorities as a form of servitude and pleasing the masters.

So, when I go to strange places, I put my best foot forward so as not to reinforce the stereotypes of minorities as rude, uneducated and clueless in the social ways of the white ethnic groups. I wear “decent” business casual clothes or blazers and shave my chin to lessen the probability of being frisked by the TSA. I got singled out twice out of a few times I boarded a plane after 9/11 happened for wearing blue-collar outfits.

A Tumblr blog called “We Are Not Trayvon Martin” follows the same premise, in which people submit their own pieces that start off with “I am not Trayvon Martin” and share their own experiences – many of whom, writing as non-black Americans, describe the “privilege” of not raising the suspicions of law enforcement or of walking home with fears of being followed or attacked by people in positions of power.

Meanwhile, the day before the jury reached the verdict in the Zimmerman trial, El Diario-La Prensa published an article by reporter Cristina Loboguerrero that examined racism among Latino immigrants. Experts say that the racism harbored by some Latinos against African Americans here is an extension of the experiences they had back home.

The article profiles Rafael Cordero, a Colombian with ebony-colored skin who has lived in the United States for the past 14 years. No stranger to discrimination, he has experienced it both here and in Colombia.

Cordero explained that while the circumstances remain the same, it’s the words that change.

“In Colombia they call me ‘negrito’ [little black man/boy]. Here they call me ‘el moreno’ [the brown one],” said Cordero. He has realized that the color of his skin – of which he is very proud – affects how people treat him.

“There are times when they look at you differently. It’s not Latinos or Anglos in particular; it’s in general. Sometimes you get upset, but I’ve also had good experiences.”

The article touched on Zimmerman, whose mother, Gladys Zimmerman said in an interview on the Univisión talk show, Al Punto, that neither her son nor family are racist and that as her family has Afro-Peruvian roots, her son did not act based on discrimination. But Cordero doesn’t seem to think so.

Based on his own experience, he doesn’t buy the argument that racism did not play a role, as maintained by the family and defense team of [Zimmerman]…

To be more specific:

“I don’t know what was going through his head [Zimmerman’s], but I’m inclined to think that the teenager’s skin color played a role in the decision to shoot him,” he added.

According to Carlos Vargas Ramos, a political scientist and research associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, the discrimination that exists in Latin American societies, especially against those with African roots, gets brought over by some Latino immigrants.

[Vargas] Ramos explained that when Latin Americans immigrate to the U.S., “they bring with them the same baggage of prejudice and discrimination, and there are documented cases in which Latinos have discriminated against people of Afro-Latino descent.”

[Vargas] Ramos highlighted that this doesn’t stop a Latino from discriminating “against a person for reasons of national origin.”

Mauricio Cuervo-Bautista, a political scientist and social worker, says that when it comes to discrimination here, Latinos could better accept African Americans, given that Latinos are prone to receiving similar kinds of treatment.

“Latinos could be more tolerant with the African-American community, as well as toward other races, because they are also discriminated against,” he emphasized. 

The Hunts Point Express also covered a protest on Southern Boulevard in the Bronx on July 15. And the Haitian Times has a photo essay by Francesca Andre of the protest in Union Square this past Sunday. More photos of the protest by Lizzie Ford-Madrid for City Limits as well and by Erin Zipper for Colorlines. Colorlines also compiled photos from protests across the country.

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