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Trial of Trayvon Martin's killer begins:
All eyes on Sanford, Florida

Revolution #307, June 16, 2013

Sanford, Florida, June 9—People poured into the streets after the murder of Trayvon Martin in February 2012 because they saw that this was NOT an isolated incident, that it was yet another killing in a long history of Black youth gunned down by racist vigilantes or brutal police. And people were determined that this time, the killer would NOT go free. After that outpouring, George Zimmerman was arrested and is now going to trial.

That anger has not gone away. People across society remain outraged over the cruel death of a young Black male and are determined that there be justice in this case.

As we wrote last week, “there are very high stakes in the trial of Trayvon Martin’s killer. Will this system that rampages around the world bringing slavery, suffering and death have its way—imposing its verdict that the life of a young Black man is worth nothing?”

Or will there be a different verdict in court, a verdict that represents justice for Trayvon? And even beyond this trial verdict, there needs to be a “societal statement”—a statement made in the streets and throughout society that this system and those it controls cannot have an open season on our youth.

The stage is set for an intense back-and-forth—society-wide—between those fighting for justice and those who would not only set back this struggle but who are for a vicious and ominous tightening of the chains of oppression.

And all this is concentrated in the town of Sanford itself where mass protests are expected on the opening day of George Zimmerman’s trial.

In front of the courthouse in Sanford, Florida, June 9, 2013, the day before the start of Zimmerman's trial. Photo: Special to Revolution

Enter the Courts and Police

Enter the courts and law enforcement. The Seminole County (where Sanford is located) Circuit Court has decreed that protesters around the courthouse will only be allowed “oral protest” and that signs that express what the authorities deem to be opinions “on any subject” are confined within—penned into—so-called “Public Assembly Zones.”

These Public Assembly Zones are pens outside the courthouse which will be set up and enforced by the authorities. Outside these pens, if you are carrying a sign that expresses what the authorities decide is an opinion (as opposed to what they consider a “fact”) you will be subject to being charged with and penalized for being in contempt of court.

Importantly, the ACLU of Florida has stepped up to counter this in a letter written to the chief judge of the court charging that these rules effectively ban “expressive conduct and speech which are well within the ambit of protected expression under the United States and Florida Constitutions.”

An example the ACLU gives in their letter is telling: if you have a sign that says George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, that is a fact. But if your sign says “Too Many Black Youth are Being Killed” (many people think this is also a bald fact), any police officer could decide that is an “opinion” and go after you if you are outside the protest pen.

Think about this... if you are walking near the courthouse through town expressing yourself or carrying a sign or maybe holding a protest in the area and expressing your opinion about the murder of Trayvon and the nature of the society we live in, some pig can make a ruling that if you are outside the protest pen, your speech is illegal and you will be subject to punishment.

And there’s more... if you do decide to join the protests in the protest pens, you have to agree to be searched. And note, this includes the searching of your wallet and cell phone. As the ACLU stated in their letter addressed to the chief judge, what this means is that in order to exercise your First Amendment right to free speech, you must give up your Fourth Amendment right to “be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” As the ACLU points out, “A cell phone is an electronic device, and even when an individual is subject to a lawful arrest, a warrant is required to examine its contents.”

This kind of intimidation and planned repression and crackdown is totally unacceptable and illegitimate. For all the rulers of this country yak on and on about “freedom of speech,” what they are setting up in Sanford reveals the true nature of their state—which maintains a monopoly on the use of supposedly legitimate violence and which uses that violence (or the threat of it) to enforce the will and interests of the ruling class over all of society.

And let’s make no mistake...the interests of the powers-that-be in this situation are to defend “the whole white supremacist mentality and system represented by George Zimmerman, along with the police who immediately treated the murdered Black teenager as the criminal and the criminal justice system itself, which only even considered charging Zimmerman because of the massive outcry and protest.” (see “A Summer of Big Challenges and Intense Struggle”). The will and interests of those who rule over society are to keep the people down when their struggle threatens to go beyond the bounds and confines the powers-that-be deem acceptable.

The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office is gearing up for the trial and has announced that it will also be working with other law enforcement agencies across Central Florida.

But I’ll say two things about all this: One, all this repression, from the ruling class and their law enforcers who didn’t even want to charge George Zimmerman with murder until mass protest forced their hand, is entirely unconstitutional (as the ACLU points out) and illegitimate and, two, instead of being intimidated and accepting these attempts to suppress our struggle, anyone who stands for justice will take a stand against this repression and refuse to be intimidated. Too much is at stake for anything less.

Voices from Sanford

In the neighborhood in Sanford, Florida, June 9.
Photo: Li Onesto/Revolution

Correspondents from Revolution newspaper have been out in the community in Sanford getting a feel for how people are seeing the trial, and the situation people face. The following notes are from their interviews:

…On the day that we arrived we talked with two men outside a barbershop here in Sanford. One of the men described the situation here in Sanford, the police harassment, and the years of dehumanization faced by Black people. He talked about the police stopping and harassing his white boss for driving him home from work. “I’m black and he’s white. He’s in a Black neighborhood, so they assume he’s buying drugs, but even when they know he’s not, they fucked with him.” These are the types of stories you hear around here. There is so much still simmering under the surface.

… I ask a woman named Virginia how she looks at what it took for prosecutors—after a month of not pressing charges, and when Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law was being invoked to justify the killing—to finally charge George Zimmerman with murder. She says: “That made the whole community and everybody all over the world rejoice because we were vindicated. We knew there should have been an arrest made and there wasn’t an arrest made. So when he didn’t take stand your ground, that was great because he didn’t have a ground to stand on in the first place because if he had just listened to what the dispatcher said, he wouldn’t have been in the position he was in and Trayvon would still be alive.

“And I don’t like the fact that they’re trying to make the media think that Trayvon was the thug, that he was the aggressor. He wasn’t the aggressor. He was just minding his own business...”

Virginia said, “We’re staying at a peaceful state because we’re waiting to see what’s gonna happen in the court.” She said, “We’re still planning on staying peaceful even after the fact, no matter what the outcome, because the law either going to do it or god’s going to do it.” And then she said, “So we’re waiting. But as far as our young generation, they want to see action. They’re tired of talk; you understand what I’m saying? They’re tired of talk.”

Later she added, “Can I say this? When the killing of Trayvon Martin happened, that’s when it was the last straw. The last straw. And that’s why, I told one interviewer, we’re just getting now to trying to trust the Sanford police department. And if we find out that we can’t trust the justice system here in Sanford, then we in trouble. Then we are absolutely in trouble because we already know that we had to deal with a lot of good ole boy system.”

Orlando Sentinel: “Communists gather to protest on eve of Trayvon Martin trial”

On June 9, the online edition of the Orlando Sentinel—the largest-circulation newspaper in Central Florida, ran an article titled “Communists gather to protest on eve of Trayvon Martin trial” along with a photo of revolutionaries and others displaying the quote from Bob Avakian on the back page of this issue.

The article quoted Noche Diaz saying, “We came out to bring a delegation to show that people down here who are facing this aren’t fighting this alone,” and “People are taking this fight around the country to connect the struggles of Trayvon Martin with the struggles of injustice against the whole system of mass incarceration of black and Latino youth.”

And the Sentinal reported, “The protesters appeared for about an hour and chanted, “Trayvon did not have to die. We all know the reason why. The whole system is guilty.”

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