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Caribbean: We Are Trayvon Martin

“Not guilty”. With those two words, a firestorm of discussion broke out among Caribbean netizens over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin‘s death. Facebook, as usual, had some of the earliest reactions, with people changing their profile pictures to images of the late teenager, and sharing posts and news links about justice and race relations in the United States.

Code Red published a post that dealt with regional reactions to the verdict and wondered whether there was an inherent contradiction “between the ability of Caribbean people at home to stand in solidarity with those protesting the devaluing of black lives…and their unwillingness to lend their bodies, voices and time (hell, even facebook statuses) to causes in the very places they live?”:

Today a friend said to me, ‘you post about all kinds of injustice in the Caribbean and nobody responds and now today everybody’s facebook page is filled with outrage at the Zimmerman verdict.’

There is a connection between the fact that Caribbean people know more about and ‘care’ more about that happens in the US which is taken to be the whole world, the racism that provoked and excused Trayvon Martin’s murder and the fact that witness, Rachel Jeantel was vilified for being fat, black, workingclass, multilingual and from the Caribbean.

At the root is a globalised white supremacy and an understanding of black people as not human…This is not about denying that the Zimmerman verdict is an affront to our collective humanity wherever we are and no matter where we are from. Neither is it an attempt to police the politics of Caribbean people or to suggest that their expressions of rage and sadness are invalid.

The blogger simply wanted “Caribbean people’s outrage at this injustice to be less cable-TV induced”:

I want mainstream anger at the deaths of I’Akobi Maloney, Brenda Belle, Kay-Ann Lamont, the Linden martyrs, the 70+ Tivoli residents, the 7750+ Haiti cholera victims. And when I don’t get that I try to understand why we don’t even know some of these stories, why some of them don’t even make regional news. In seeking to untangle the Caribbean’s response to the murder, the trial and the verdict, the dominance of US media is a key part of the story. I wonder to what extent these public expressions of outrage are more about being part of an outernational media event, than anything else. I’m crossing my fingers that they also contain the possibility of resistance, of doing the everyday work of insisting on the inherent value of all lives.

Barbadian bloggers had a strong reaction to the news. Diaspora blogger J-did, a Barbadian living in Canada, said he could have predicted the trial's outcome:

Despite being a news junkie I just couldn't bring myself to follow most of the coverage for the Trayvon Martin trial.

Something deep inside me told me that George Zimmerman would be found not guilty. Didn't matter what the evidence said…something told me that he'd get off scotch free.

To think that a black kid innocently walking home, not rabble rousing, not looking for trouble, with a pack of skittles and a can of pop that he had just bought from the store can be shot down in the streets and no justice is done just doesn't sit well with me.

I'm numb. I don't advocate any violence against Mr Zimmerman as I've seen some people online doing, the law is the law. But I think of the ramifications of this verdict. For one I think folks can cease and desist with the post-racial mumbo jumbo that they developed to convince us that things had changed once Obama was elected and we no longer see race.

For two, is it now open season on black young men?Think about it, so many folk get sent to jail for years on more trivial charges but you kill an innocent black kid and you get to walk? Wow. Still trying to wrap my head around it.

Barbados Underground's “Requiem for Trayvon Martin” put it this way:

A black child walking to his father’s home in a gated community of Florida is gunned down with malice and forethought yet an all-white jury finds a murdering Hispanic-Jew not guilty by reason of self defense. This is not the America of the Jim Crow era. It is not the America of the slavery period. It is not the American of the Reconstruction epoch. It is Barack Obama’s America of 2013.

It took a public outcry to even get the racist government of the State of Florida to even charge the assailant in the first place, in what to most observers seemed a clear cut case for the arrest and charging of Zimmerman, police and District Attorney had to be brought under heavy public pressure for charges to be lodged in the first place.

To say that the Florida prosecutors were inept is an understatement. Racism could be another explanation for the prosecutors treating Martin as the aggressor and Zimmerman as the aggrieved party in their weak defense. Seems everybody wants to pretend that Martin was approach[ed] for reasons other than that he was Black. Few want to say that had roles be reversed those same prosecutors, judge and jury would have found ways to bring a guilty verdict.

Trini Like Salt, a Trinidadian living in Boston, wrote on his Tumblr:

You know who isn’t shocked or surprised – at all – about the Zimmerman verdict?
Black people.

Still don’t know what we did to make y’all hate us so much.

In a follow-up post, he quipped:

Don’t fret, America…
I know talking about white privilege and what it allows folks to do makes you all pouty, so tomorrow we’ll all go back to talking about the things that really matter to you. Sharknado, for instance.

After some consideration, he also posted an update that dealt with “why the outrage over the Zimmerman verdict will change exactly nothing”:

- the gun culture would have to change – and America loves its guns more than anything else – so THAT ain’t changing

- the legal system would have to change – but white folks control said system, and it disproportionately benefits them – so THAT ain’t changing

- America’s attitude towards black people – and especially black males – would have to change…and THAT ain’t changing anytime soon

- white folks – yes, even you – would have to acknowledge that they enjoy certain privileges that darker-skinned people – especially really darker-skinned people – don’t…and then actively give up those privileges. Ha.

In another update, he examined the issue of racism and white privilege:

I should state that in the 16 years I have lived in the US, I have not been the recipient of blatant racism that much. So it takes instances like the Zimmerman trial to remind me that racism is institutional – and therefore much more serious and insidious.

This is something that I honestly think most white people don’t think about, at all. Why should they? The institutions work in their favor. They built and maintain the institutions within which racism is alive and well. But black people think about this stuff, constantly. We have to.

We have to because we know we are hated and feared by the system – although for the life of me I have never been able to understand why. The historical precedent would indicate the converse – black people have actual reason to distrust and fear white people. But white folks distrust and fear us – so much so that they’ve built entire institutions designed to assuage their own fears.

He continued:

What is it about black men that drive men of lighter-skinned races to immediately assume that we are immediate threats, by virtue of the fact that we are dark-skinned, wearing a hoodie? What is it about us that makes such men think that following us, provoking us, and shooting us, is okay? What is it about us that makes half the country think it’s justified to think and act in this way?

I have never understood the underlying attitudes towards people who look like me, that let white people believe that it’s justified to write off people who look like me – to the extent that there are two separate systems of justice. One for you folks, where everyone gets a fair shake and eventual justice…and one for us, where none of that happens.

In his final post, he examined “the reasons black people are dying like this” by linking to two relevant articles:

These are the reasons that most of white America turn their back on – because we don’t want to acknowledge that we might each be racist. And so more of us will be prejudged, and incarcerated, and will die. That cannot continue.

You should read both [articles], if you are at all serious about wanting to change something. Because most of us are not Trayvon Martin. Most of us are George Zimmerman.

It is only from understanding the underlying cause of something can we really change it. Everything else – all the anger and outrage and wringing of hands – is just punchless indignation and window dressing.

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