Tag Archives: Sanford

Bringing the Fight for Justice to Sanford

My report from the Justice for Trayvon protest in Sanford, FL:

AS MANY as 3,000 people joined the NAACP and the 1199SEIU health care workers union on March 31 for a protest through the central Florida town of Sanford where Trayvon Martin was killed in late February.

The nearly all-Black crowd marched past boarded-up pawn shops and crumbling shacks where the town’s poorest African Americans reside. The police headquarters–the only modern, state-of-the-art structure in sight–was the rallying point for the angry protest.

Calls to 911 and the accounts of witnesses corroborate the basic facts: Trayvon was walking through a gated community wearing a hoodie when he was spotted by self-proclaimed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, who decided he was “suspicious.” Zimmerman followed Trayvon in defiance of instructions from the police dispatcher and, after a later confrontation, shot and killed him.

But Zimmerman has still not been arrested–because police and prosecutors say they can’t challenge his claim that he acted in self-defense.

After days of enduring the media’s unrelenting character assassination of Trayvon and its defense of his killer, the crowd was defiant. Many carried placards with the pictures and names of other young Black men from Sanford who have been killed without any justice in their cases.

This record feeds local skepticism about whether Trayvon’s death, too, will be brushed aside, despite international attention and outrage. “It’s taking too long,” said Gwendolyn, a 69-year-old veteran of civil rights struggles who too wary to give her last name. “They’re waiting it out. That’s justice in Florida.”

Janice Mortimer, a member of the NAACP in Bradford County in the northern part of the state, said, “If Trayvon’s family got the attention they deserved, it wouldn’t go this far.” Cynthia Berry, who traveled for three hours from her home in Starke, Fla., to get to Sanford, said: “It’s just sad that in 2012 we still have to fight this fight.”

Phyllis Young came from Jacksonville with her sons to march in Sanford. “I do have three sons, and that very well could be any of my boys any day, any moment,” Young told the Florida Times-Union. “I don’t see it as just a fight for Trayvon, but a fight for all young men.”

The speakers at the rally and the crowd agreed that protests are crucial if the Martin family is to receive any kind of justice for the murder of Trayvon.

On the speakers’ platform, NAACP President Ben Jealous introduced Brenden Mitchell, a NAACP youth leader. “I am 17 years old,” Mitchell said in a fiery speech that was enthusiastically received. “I’m a high school student. I’m a young Black man. I could be the next Trayvon Martin.”

Many people at the demonstration were marching for the first time. Buses came from across the state to bring veteran activists and young people alike. A group of white college students drove in from Gainesville, Melbourne and Tampa, and were met with appreciation for stepping over this state’s heavily drawn color line to express solidarity.

Ben Jealous drew attention to the turnout both from out of town and in Sanford itself–”people from throughout this community,” he said, “students, parents, teachers. We’re tired of racial profiling. We’re tired of the lives of young Black men not being treated with the same level of importance when they’re killed.”

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THIS WAS the third major demonstration in Sanford in the weeks since Trayvon’s murder came to national and international attention, and there have been many more protests and actions around Florida. In Miami, where Trayvon went to high school, there were walkouts and student marches in mid-March.

On March 26, at the University of Florida’s flagship campus in Gainesville, more than 250 Black and white students marched together to the FBI building to demand that the Feds take action to arrest George Zimmerman. That may not seem like a lot compared to some of the bigger demonstrations in other cities, but in a deeply segregated town where Blacks literally live on the other side of the tracks, and where activists passed a Klan rally of dozens along the road home recently, a multiracial march of this size is a triumph.

There are Floridians who say they’re forever changed by this case, and some of them–to the horror of bigots–will cite this as their entry into a life of organized left-wing politics. That the students in Gainesville hoped their protest would be part of a new civil rights movement is a heartening sign. Seasoned activists insist this hasn’t happened in the past, despite an endless stream of outrages over the years.

The spreading radicalization was clear at the Sanford march as well. A literature table set up by the International Socialist Organization was swamped by well-wishers who were thrilled to see antiracist books and the banner calling for an “end to the new Jim Crow.” The paper edition of Socialist Worker sold fast, often followed by spirited discussions about Trayvon and the roots of racism in America.

From the podium, the largest cheers went up when Rev. Al Sharpton echoed the sentiment that surrounds this case. “We live in the middle of an American paradox,” he told the crowd. “We can put a Black man in the White House, but we can’t walk a Black child through a gated neighborhood. We are not selling out, bowing out or backing down until there is justice for Trayvon.”

Sharpton, along with many of the speakers from the NAACP and Rev. Jesse Jackson from Rainbow PUSH in Chicago, pressed for activists to register and vote as the way to “unlock justice in the community.” Though appeals to reelect Barack Obama and local Democratic officials were met with applause, few in the crowd expressed hope that voting was the most important way to fight the racist injustice system.

“It’s up to the masses to change things,” insisted Ayanna Miller of Fort Lauderdale. “We have the power. We have to stop being afraid.”

Joe Richard contributed to this article.
This story originally appeared at socialistworker.org

Is Trayvon’s Killing Sparking a New Movement in Central Florida?

Central Florida leftists insist something new is happening here since Trayvon Martin’s killing. In the era of Occupy and global resistance, small towns draped in Spanish moss are now home to budding activists raising their fists to demand justice for Trayvon.

I’m down here from Brooklyn on a long-planned speaking tour that I hastily shifted to talk about Winning Justice for Trayvon: Socialism and the Fight to End the New Jim Crow. My impression so far is that these local activists living amidst boarded-up strip malls and forests of foreclosure signs are onto something.

The multiracial protests and meetings here seem to indicate that perhaps a new civil rights movement is developing in a region where the Klan still holds public rallies and newspapers uncritically report racist tirades against Trayvon.

Where this will go from here I have no idea, but one thing is certain: There are Floridians who say they’re forever changed by this case, and some of them  — to the horror of bigots — will cite this as their entry into a life of organized left-wing politics.

On Monday at the University of Florida’s flagship campus in Gainesville, more than 250 Black and white students marched together to the FBI building to demand the Feds take action to arrest Trayvon’s killer, George Zimmerman. That is not a large protest to folks in New York or Chicago, but in a deeply segregated town where Blacks literally live on the other side of the tracks, where  activists passed a Klan rally of dozens along the road home afterward, a multiracial march of this size is a triumph.

The demand from students at the march for a new civil rights movement is a heartening sign. Seasoned activists insist this hasn’t happened in the past, despite an endless stream of outrages over the years.

On Wednesday in Melbourne, a beach town about 80 miles from Sanford where Trayvon was killed, a diverse crowd of 45 or so attended my meeting. The young people there, like young people everywhere nowadays, are scraping by on jobs at Radio Shack, sandwich shops and are moving back home with mom and dad, desperately hoping for something to change.

Several left the meeting with copies of The Meaning of Marxism, Sexuality and Socialism and The Communist Manifesto tucked under their arms, excited to join reading groups in coming weeks. They’re carpooling to Sanford on Saturday for the big NAACP march for Trayvon, excited to be part of history, but outraged by the latest character assassinations of Trayvon.

Last night in Gainesville after I spoke a crowd of students participated in the wide-ranging discussion about the roots 0f racism, comparisons to the sixties and how multiracial unity can be forged. Several young Black women wearing hoodies participated in an animated discussion, the campus NAACP rep grabbed a Socialist Worker, a young Black alum leafleted for a Million Hoodie March today. When a retired transgender activist who’d been a postal strike militant in 1970 denounced the divide and conquer tactics of the 1%, she was applauded.

One Cuban-African American student who’d read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow was elated to find socialists on campus — finally a political home for a young woman whose Miami Beach youth was spent being ridiculed for expressing antiracist ideas. She’s joining the local carpool to Sanford on Saturday, too.

I’m off to Tampa tonight to speak at the University of South Florida and will be heading to Sanford on Saturday where I’ll Tweet from the protest (@SherryTalksBack) and file a report for Monday’s socialistworker.org.

Who knows where all this pent up anger and rage will eventually lead? Times like this we’re reminded that the system doesn’t just produce oppression, exploitation and division, it sparks resistance as well.

How long it will last, how deep it will sink roots, how much change it can win are open questions. But something’s happening here.

Below is a little Brooklyn love for Trayvon: