Martin versus Zimmerman : No Ground to Stand On

For five years the DDPA Watch Group and its coalition members have fought for the human rights of African descendants in countries from South Africa to Sweden and cities from Berlin to Bahia. The scourge of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and Afrophobia knows no boundaries. Today we stand in solidarity with the family of the 17-year-old youth, Trayvon Martin who not only lost his life but has now lost a legal battle with George Zimmerman’s evasion of punishment for Martin’s premature death. The travesty that was this trial makes the call for justice, recognition, and development, the themes of the International Decade for People of African Descent 2013-2023, all that more pressing. Federal and international action is warranted and we urge you to write the US Attorney General Eric Holder, and UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay.
The fact that President Obama continues to ignore the international moral mandate to uphold the U.N. Durban Declaration & Programme of Action Plan (DDPA,) so that systemic racism and xenophobia might be confronted directly, has helped make the acquittal of a killer possible. Just a week before this ruling, a prior legal defeat occurred in the Supreme Court concerning the Voting Rights Act whose victim is the pursuit of democracy. The two cases are are not unrelated. Malcolm X spoke of 1964 as the year of “The Ballot or the Bullet.” The speech’s underlining message was that the black people should control what happens in their own community, and whose elected officials have the good of the black community at heart. Almost 50 years later we find our selves facing another year of the ballot or the bullet, only now it is no longer a case of one or the other. We were reminded recently of the threat to a certain generation of whites posed by the rise of a new majority brown and black population in America, and its profound impact on national politics as they have known it, by the machinations of Republican politicians prior to the re-election of President Barack Obama.
2013 is another year of politics, another year of elections and in this year, the first year of the Decade of People of African descent, the ability of African Americans to determine who represents us in electoral politics is unraveling. In the words of Frantz Fanon, “He who is reluctant to recognize me, opposes me.” Curtailing the ability to select who represents us restricts our ability to influence our policy makers and how our needs get acknowledged. Elections impact not only who leads us but who gets appointed judicial posts ; determines the nature of the laws that govern the land, as well as, establishes who gets punished ; the nature of the punishment ; and for how long.
African Americans have been hit hard with the ballot and the bullet in recent weeks and because young black males comprise a visible oppositional presence they are in further danger. The rights of African descendants have been shamelessly eroded and ridiculed with the invalidation of the heart of the Voting Rights Act, and compounded by the trivialization of Affirmative Action, by words coming from the lips of one of its best known beneficiaries : Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas.
These are matters which can be seen to be of the ballot. George Zimmerman’s trial and his acquittal for fatally shooting a black youth is a matter of the bullet. This is another manifestation of the lack of agency within our collective communities. The Zimmerman case sets a new precedent for the extrajudicial killings of African descendants in the 21st Century. Unarmed black citizens cannot defend themselves from armed vigilantes who are Afrophobic, that is, those hosting an irrational fear of the sensibilities, cultures and people of African descent, no matter what neighborhoods we are in. This is especially true in those areas that racists believe is not the domain of black folk. Apparently Florida’s stand your ground laws and other similar pieces of legislation will be interpreted by bigoted juries to mean that we have no ground to stand on.
Growing xenophobia and structural racism are realities of American life despite the delusions presented by a certain sector of our society, that we live in a post-racial society. The darkening of America due to increasing numbers of ethnic minorities has many conservative pundits thinking that if the United States ceases to be a majority white country they could no longer consider it to be the United States of America. So what will that make of the rest of us — the “minority” that shall soon be the majority ? Are we as people, not Americans ? These are the same conservatives who advocated the dismantling of the Civil Rights Act which will allow states to change their election laws without federal approval. As Africans in the Americas we continue to face an electoral process characterized by racial barriers to voting as well as racially based redistricting. Our friends in Florida proved that repeatedly. The US Congress should be pressed to pass a new bill to determine which states and locations must not only continue to obtain permission to change voting laws but also make the Voting Rights Act the law of the land. Otherwise the current Civil Rights Act essentially will allow states and municipalities to disenfranchise minority voters.
Neither the government nor the judiciary is working in the interests of African Americans or other people-of-color, including Muslims and immigrants. The failure of government to work in the interest of the people reenforces our invisibility. We are entitled to a trail of our peers. And the courts are made available to us but we witnessed the incompetence of the prosecution whose arguments serve to reenforce Trayvon Martin’s victimization. This only serves to demonstrate that without the necessary financial and social resources, the Rule of Law means very little. In the prevailing atmosphere that exists in the United States we are now judged guilty until proven innocent. And right now the outcome of the Zimmerman trial effectively gives the average white man permission to act with impunity towards any person of African descent he feels threatened by. We are confronted with a particularly dangerous form of racism validating the actions of ignorant, self-entitled people.
The most recent Gallup polls on gun ownership reveal that 36% of Americans own guns. Of that number 43% are male. 44% are white and 49% have a conservative ideology. ( That means more bullets can and will be used against us because in the eyes of self righteous racists we are not worthy of democracy, we are not deemed real (read White) Americans. The ballot and the bullet are being used against us, and our frustration must be expressed in terms beyond polite indignation and calls for unity. We need action. The value of the United Nations Durban Declaration, the product of global independence movements and the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, called for the universal ratification of the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms Racial Discrimination (CERD.) While the US ratified this conventions in 1994, it has not submitted required reports since 2000 and has boycotted the Durban process since the George W. Bush administration. Despite the resistance from high level officialdom, CERD’s importance must not be underestimated. Its misapplication and abuse by states and municipalities must be seriously addressed by civil society at large.
Finally, the extrajudicial killing of African descendants is not limited to the United States but is a reality, and a poorly documented one, the world over. It was the Declaration of Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples in 1960 which was later followed by the 1965 United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination that put pressure on the United States government to sign the Voting Rights Act. The very important work by Civil Rights activists within the United States was supplemented by international pressure coming from outside the country was required. A bullet may have taken Trayvon Martin’s life away but we must not allow the bullet to take away our ability to access the ballot and be in a stronger position to rid ourselves of a government that does not serve or protect its people. In a country where African descendants are quickly losing ground, official government embrace of the DDPA mandate would provide a measure of protection for the second largest African descendant population in this hemisphere. (See We urge our allies to actually read the document to understand how it safeguards us as African descendants, immigrants and minorities. Before President Obama leaves office he must do something to shield those who are historically the most vulnerable and disenfranchised : We, the People.
Dowoti Désir, Founder, President DDPA Watch Group July 2013