Portland’s second rally and march for Justice for Trayvon Martin in one week took place this weekend. His killer, George Zimmerman, walks free due to racist ‘stand your ground’ laws that have been proven to punish black people while excusing the crimes of whites. Again, good people of moral conscience gathered in a beloved park to speak about bigotry, about brutality, and about American injustice.
It’s been a sad week. Some of the media commentary has been honest about the systemic racism in our nation and its judicial system. However, a good deal of broadcast messaging has actually pleaded sympathy for the murderer. On FOX News, Zimmerman’s own brother warned in a statement of horrific irony that “there are factions, there are…people” who would “take the law into their own hands”, becoming “vigilantes” in seeking revenge on Zimmerman. The Daily Show eviscerated the brother’s racist hypocrisy.
In what can only be a sickening publicity stunt, a store in Florida grabbed headlines by proudly offering to arm the acquitted killer with a brand new gun – free of charge, of course. After hearing Zimmerman could not have back the actual Kel-Tec PF-9mm semi-automatic pistol he used to shoot seventeen year old Trayvon Martin through his chest, Pompano Pats, a motorcycle and gun shop (because those two things go together like Peanut butter and Jelly in Florida) released a statement, “Upon receiving confirmation that he is well within his legal rights to concealed carry, our company would like to offer Mr. Zimmerman a free firearm. We currently have the same model in stock.” Every asshole has at least one friend. Often more. While researching this story, I found an article with an online pole showing a staggering 82% of some 30,000 responders agreed Zimmerman was right to be acquitted for murdering the unarmed teenager.
Outside the bigoted anonymity of the internet, people took to the streets this week. Public squares were occupied. Freeways were shut down. People of morality are rightfully angry. In one widely shared story, the white owners of a cafe whose windows were smashed during protests of the Zimmerman verdict chose to display solidarity with those outraged. Over the shattered glass they taped a hand made sign which read: “This window will be fixed later today. When will the U.S. justice system? When will our archaic gun control laws? The likelihood of black males going to prison in their lifetime is 28% compared to 4% of white males and 16% of Hispanic males”.
Petty vandalism and guerilla street closures notwithstanding, the blowback from the verdict has been far more peaceful than many imaged or hoped. Reverend Al Sharpton called for a national day of action for Saturday, July 20th, 2013 – a day that saw rallies and marches in over 100 cities.
Here in Portland, several hundred citizens gathered in Lownsdale Square across the street from the so-called ‘Justice’ Center. Portland has its own bitter history of racial violence, segregation, and urban gentrification. Speakers included legendary community organizers Jo Ann Hardesty, Rev. Dr. Leroy Haynes, and Fred Bryant – the father of Keaton Otis – a young black man who was tazered multiple times and then shot to death after being racially profiled by Portland police. An officer at the scene of the shooting admitted Otis had been followed by police not because of any criminal wrongdoing, but purely for the way he looked while wearing a hoodie.
It seemed difficult for Fred Bryant to retell the account of his son’s killing at the hands of the PPB, despite having done so many times before. Hardesty consoled Bryant after he appeared to tear-up half way through his speech. The crowd cheered him on while applauding support. Video of the impassioned moment can be found at the bottom of this page.
Several more speakers followed. All urged continued solidarity in fighting racist court systems, racist police departments, and racist legislative policies like ‘stand your ground’ being pushed nation-wide by corporate entities like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Soon, the command to begin marching was given, and the crowd eased its way out into the sunny downtown streets. Traffic was minimal being the weekend. Motorists obliged the marchers patiently.
It was a successful action with no harassment or disruption by police. The urgency of what must come now was universally understood, but so too was a feeling of fatigue. Speakers likened our current state of institutionalized bigotry as being little different than the Dred Scott case or Jim Crow segregation of generations past. Just last month the Supreme Court gutted the Voter Rights Act, and already states with populous communities of color are rushing to maliciously enact new suppressions targeting black voters.
An an observer and an ally, I can only empathize with human beings subjugated by racism on a daily basis. But I will never truly experience what this kind of hatred and discrimination feels like. It is a humbling experience to stand with such people and see the strength and empowerment they exude. To watch those who have been so wronged refuse to give up – to continue to fight back, to stand up, to revolt against injustice so engrained into the coding of our nation – such rebellion is truly an attesting sight.
As a speaker at a recent event so eloquently orated, “The way we beat racism is through love. We need to love each other, every one of us.”
Unequivocal words to live by.
“Speakers included legendary community organizers Jo Ann Hardesty, Rev. Dr. Leroy Haynes, and Fred Bryant – the father of Keaton Otis – a young black man who was tazered multiple times and then shot to death after being racially profiled by Portland police.
All images and video copyright Hart Noecker and Rebel Metropolis.