Reflections on the 3/26 rally for Trayvon in Atlanta
Thousands were gathered in front of the Georgia State capitol building, many holding signs and wearing shirts, all were there for the most infuriating of occasions – another black male had been senselessly murdered. Community leaders and politicians vowed that it would never happen again. The masses chanted repeatedly, “No justice, no peace!” There was talk about changing laws, about voting, about the necessity of belonging to an organization. Prayers were prayed and ‘We Shall Overcome’ was sung. Reaffirmation was given to the “everyday people” in the crowd – Don’t worry, the Big Guys are on the case. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Derrick Boazman, Vincent Fort, and other local Atlanta Big Men are speaking out! Measured warnings about staying focused and seeing things through were given: “We’ve got to get organized, we can’t let this happen again!” and “Don’t let this be a moment; make it into a movement!” More praying, and more talk about law, voting, and vigilance followed. Throughout the whole event, the crowd chanted 4 solemn words, simply voicing identification with the murder victim… “I am… Troy Davis!”
6 months and an Occupy movement later, and it’s more of the same. Another black male killed. Another rally at the capitol. More ‘leaders’ speaking, more chants, more prayers, more calls to vote. The only differences between the September 2011 Atlanta rally against killing black men and the March 2012 rally against killing black men were in the details of the latest killing that spurred the convergence. This time, the black male victim was younger, by 27 years (although Troy was 22 when he was locked up on specious evidence). This time, the victim was not killed after decades of litigation, bureaucracy, countless motions, petitions, and judicial orders, but rather in the time it took for a fair-skinned police-obsessed man to decide he would take a black man’s life. Six months ago, the State of Georgia ordered and carried out the killing of Troy Davis. Four weeks ago, George Zimmerman pulled the trigger of the gun that shot Trayvon Martin. But our history – hundreds of years of racism, hundreds of years of coercion through the lash, the gun, and the law in a country forged by two genocides – combined with our tired thinking in the present, our failure to do something about these murders each time they happen, have further emboldened the State, the Government, the Police, and the wanna-be-Police in their bloodlust, in their will to murder.
Troy Davis fell to Georgia’s Death Penalty, but trusting the legal system, trusting leaders, maintaining nonviolent reactions enabled the murder to be carried out. But just weeks after Troy’s murder by injection, a ‘movement’ sprung up across the country, even coming right here to Atlanta! Maybe things were going to change. Yet those who ran away with the Occupy brand enshrined the principles of legality (or at least legal ‘illegality’), leadership, and nonviolence. October 15, Joetavious Stafford was murdered. Meanwhile, the ‘movement’ stagnated. In December, Ariston Waiters was shot in the back and killed. While a handful responded in the streets with more forceful reactions, the Official Rallies held for these murder victims also functioned as safe spaces for prayer, politicians, and petitions. Where’s our power?
As today’s occasion has led us to recapitulate the list of the most recent (known) innocent black men to be killed in our area, it’s also necessary to point out that the overwhelming majority of Atlantans still are unfamiliar with the case of Dwight Person, the 54-yr old black man shot in the chest and killed in East Point in his nephew’s home when the East Point pig department served a no-knock warrant on the wrong house (again – remember Kathryn Johnston?). He was killed in November, the month between the Stafford and Waiters murders, but the Georgia Bureau of Investigations covered that one up so fast hardly anyone heard about it (http://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta/east-point-police-shooting-1230972.html). And then there was Trayvon… (And what about Ervin Jefferson – an 18-yr-old black male shot by more police-wanna-bes right here in Decatur just last weekend?).
So on the afternoon of Monday, March 26, 2012, I attended the rally. But as thousands chanted “I AM… TRAYVON MARTIN!”, I decided not to join in. I AM me, and I AM ANGRY. I am angry that black men are still killed for sport in this country. I am angry that justice never gets served – has it ever been? I am angry that people still believe in petitions, prisons, leaders, voters… in America. I AM ANGRY THAT NOTHING GETS DONE.
I know that I am not Trayvon Martin. I’m just me, just someone trying to figure out what to do to prevent us from becoming Trayvon Martin. I hope no black person is ever again a Trayvon Martin. I hope no minority, no woman, no queer, no one at all is made to feel unsafe, insecure, and ready to be killed at any moment simply for being who they are. How can I do this? I’m not sure. But I have an idea that my hopes should never be trusted to the politicians that dominate us with the pen, the courts that shackle us with the gavel, and the police who kill us whenever they want. I keep my hopes in my own hands – and I find others with similar ideas. Then we see what we can make happen.
At Trayvon’s rally, some of my friends and I stuck out. When a stack of student presidents from Atlanta colleges spoke, calling out their universities, asking people to “make some noiisssee” – what we thought was supposed to be a crowd gathering in response to a murder, took on the feel more of a pep rally, and we audibly groaned. Still, we stood there, many of us in black from head to toe, some holding black flags. Occasionally we let the crowd know what was on our minds: “Tired of voting! Been voting – and they stay killin’!” Some heads turned, others nodded in agreement. “Joetavious Stafford!” we yelled. Ervin Jefferson!” More people turned to look – some people dressed similarly to me started feeling nervous as the overwhelmingly African-American crowd was coy with its feelings towards the mostly lighter-skinned black-clad bunch. Some curious looks, a few stern gazes, some nods of solidarity. And still, with black flags in our hands we had some conversations – and some common ground was found.
Yet, we were too few, too quiet, too unprepared, too isolated. The takeaway for many of us was frustration and more anger (which bubbled over into despondency for some of us as on the way we were witness to 5 Atlanta cops picking up a hand-cuffed black-man only to drop him on his face on the sidewalk near Troy Davis Park). And what can we do? What can we do when a sea of people hold onto their leaders, hold onto the vote, hold onto America, hold onto the past – the past that contains all of the ways of thinking, being, organizing, and governing that started, accelerated, and maintained the genocide of Africans in this world to begin with? We all need to do more, so that any of us can do something. We need to bridge the divide between black-skinned people and black-wearing people in this city. Our common ground is vastly more than either side can presently understand. Only direct and honest, if painfully honest, exchange can bring us closer to one another. This task falls to all involved, to all who rally, to all who wish to need rally no more. As for me – I AM… ANGRY. I hear there’s a rally outside the courthouse this coming Friday. No justice? No shit. Now let’s get crackin’ on that no peace part.