17 July 2013
Zimmerman Verdict—21st Century Dred Scott Decision
There Is No Justice
in the Capitalist Courts!
George Zimmerman got away with the coldblooded killing of Trayvon Martin. Not even a slap on the wrist, nothing. The verdict is the 21st-century echo of Chief Justice Taney’s infamous declaration in the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision that black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Dred Scott was a fugitive slave, Trayvon Martin a black teenager walking home from a 7-Eleven store with a bag of candy and an iced tea. But for wannabe cop and racist vigilante George Zimmerman, the 17-year-old Martin was on the “white” side of the tracks in Sanford, Florida, one of the “punks” who “always get away.” So he stalked Trayvon like a fugitive slave and shot him dead. This is what they call post-racial America, where a black man sits in the Oval Office and black life on the streets is as cheap as ever.
The acquittal of Zimmerman—by a jury without a single black person on it—was no aberration in the American justice system. On the contrary, that system worked according to script. Here was a case study in the machinery of courts, cops and prosecutors whose job is to maintain and defend a system rooted in the brutal exploitation of the many by the few—a system built on a bedrock of racial oppression, from chattel slavery to wage slavery.
The only unusual thing was that Trayvon wasn’t gunned down by a cop, the fate of so many young black men in this country. The Zimmerman verdict coincided with the release of the movie Fruitvale Station, based on the last day of Oscar Grant’s life. A 22-year-old black man, Grant was shot in the back by a Bay Area Rapid Transit cop on New Year’s Day, 2009, as he lay handcuffed and prone on the floor of the Oakland station. The movie stands out for depicting Oscar Grant as a human being with all the strengths and frailties of a young black man in capitalist America. This cuts against the grain of this society, where black youth are written off as violent predators, as suspects who are guilty until proven innocent.
It wasn’t George Zimmerman on trial in that Florida courtroom, it was Trayvon Martin. His “crime” was being black in America. After killing Martin, Zimmerman was released without charges by the cops. Only six weeks later did a state prosecutor file an indictment. The same prosecutor had just won a case against a 31-year-old black mother, Marissa Alexander, who was given 20 years for firing a warning shot into a wall when threatened with violent attack by her husband. There was no such zeal when it came to prosecuting Zimmerman. It wasn’t that the prosecution didn’t have a case. The truth is that this wasn’t their field of expertise, which is railroading black people to prison.
The judge ruled that race, the central issue in the case, could not be raised in court. But racist fear and loathing of black people was at the core of the defense case. By repeatedly pounding a dummy into the courtroom floor as “evidence” that it was the lanky teenager who assaulted the far heftier Zimmerman, they turned “the victim into the predator and the predator into the victim,” in the words of black academic Robin Kelley. Contempt and derision for the testimony of Rachel Jeantel, the young black woman who was talking to Martin on his cell phone while he was stalked by the “creepy-ass cracker” Zimmerman, oozed from the courtroom to the media.
When the verdict was announced, black preachers and Democratic Party politicians scrambled to contain the outrage, appealing for peace. Replying to the call for calm, Gary Younge wrote in his London Guardian (14 July) column: “Those who now fear violent social disorder must ask themselves whose interests are served by a violent social order in which young black men can be thus slain and discarded.” The role of the preachers and bourgeois politicians is to serve the interests of the rulers of this society by maintaining people’s illusions in the “justice” system. This is what’s behind Al Sharpton’s call for protests at federal courthouses on July 20 to pressure the Justice Department to bring a civil rights case against Zimmerman.
Attorney General Eric Holder may be a black man, but he is the top cop in the vast state apparatus—the police, courts and prisons—whose purpose is to enforce the subjugation of the working class and the oppressed to the capitalist exploiters. As Richard Pryor so incisively put it, “You go down there looking for justice; that’s what you find: just us”—that is, prisons overflowing with black people. As for the kind of investigations the Obama/Holder Justice Department are fervently pursuing, these are mainly aimed at silencing “whistle-blowers” like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden for exposing U.S. imperialism’s dirty wars, drone attacks and torture chambers targeting brown-skinned peoples around the globe as well as their domestic spying apparatus. The savagery perpetrated against Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and detainees at Guantánamo is but a concentrated expression of the systematic brutality of the cops and prisons on U.S. soil.
Obama, the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism who keeps a list of people for targeted assassinations abroad, used the Zimmerman verdict to piously ask “if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence.” Actually, if Trayvon Martin had been armed he might be alive today, although he would also most likely be behind bars. Zimmerman invoked Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which, like similar laws in other states, allows for the use of deadly force by anyone claiming “reasonable belief” that such force is necessary. In this country, any black kid in a hoodie is enough for someone to claim “reasonable belief” of danger. By eliminating retreat as a criterion for self-defense, these laws are a license to kill. And as shown in the case of Marissa Alexander, black people are not allowed such ground to stand on.
At the same time, defending the right to bear arms is vital for the self-defense of working people, black people and the poor. Gun control is a means of enforcing a monopoly of violence for the capitalist state, leaving guns in the hands of cops, criminals and racist vigilantes while the rest of the population is defenseless. Gun control kills, and as the whole history of this country shows, it kills black people in particular.
It took a bloody Civil War, the Second American Revolution, with 200,000 black troops, guns in hand, to smash the chains of black chattel slavery. But the promise of black freedom was soon betrayed by the Northern bourgeoisie, which allied with the Southern propertied classes against the aspirations of the black freedmen. It will take a third American Revolution—a proletarian socialist revolution that breaks the chains of capitalist wage slavery—to finish the Civil War.
Many of those protesting Zimmerman’s acquittal have spoken out against “the system.” But this has little meaning absent the understanding that the working class is the only force with the social power and class interest to get rid of a system rooted in the exploitation of labor and the forcible subjugation of black people at the bottom. No doubt many view the notion of the workers fighting in their own interests and in the interests of black people and all the oppressed as wishful thinking. Responsibility for this can be laid at the doorstep of the trade-union misleaders, who for decades have allowed the unions to be hacked to pieces while turning a blind eye to the plight of the ghetto and barrio poor. The labor bureaucrats’ accommodation to the rulers’ onslaught flows from their allegiance to the capitalist profit system and to the “lesser evil” Democrats, whose job, no less than the Republicans, is to maintain that system.
But there are real battalions of organized labor, like the overwhelmingly black longshore unions in the Florida ports of Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa. Their labor is essential to the profitability of U.S. imperialism. In this lies their social power to take on the capitalist rulers. In turn, such workers provide a critical link to the defense of the black poor.
The key to unlocking this power is the fight for a class-struggle leadership of labor based on independence from and opposition to the capitalist state and its political parties. The Spartacist League/U.S. is dedicated to forging a multiracial revolutionary workers party that will lead the exploited in wresting the wealth of this country out of the hands of the greedy and corrupt capitalist owners. When the power of the ruling class and its state apparatus is shattered, this wealth will be deployed for the benefit of those who produced it—not least the descendants of the black slaves whose labor was a cornerstone on which American capitalism was built. In an egalitarian socialist America, Justice Taney’s racist decree will be buried once and for all and the cause of black freedom will finally be realized.
—17 July 2013