by BAR editor and columnist Jemima Pierre
The rule of law is everywhere in retreat. Racist vigilante justice trumps Blacks’ right to life in Florida and a growing number of “shoot first” states, while the U.S. president claims the right to kill at will, internationally. “The Florida laws are the local articulation of a US foreign policy that deploys murder and mayhem at any sign of a threat.” Eric Holder, the nation’s top lawman, condones assassination without trial, yet “is now tasked to investigate Trayvon Martin’s murder.”
Assassinations at Home and Abroad
by BAR editor and columnist Jemima Pierre
Trayvon Martin was a slim, seventeen-year-old Black boy callously murdered on February 26, 2012 by George Zimmerman, an unhinged, racist vigilante. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, claimed that he shot the young Martin in self-defense. The recently released 9-1-1 calls show that Zimmerman, without any evidence but Martin’s Blackness, assumed that Martin was drugged, up to no good, and on his way to commit a crime in the gated community in a suburb of Orlando, Florida. By all indications, Zimmerman got out of his car, ran after Martin, accosted him, cornered him, and shot him.
The reaction to Trayvon Martin’s killing has been swift. Most people are outraged, and rightly so. For us in the Black community, Trayvon Martin’s death is both the latest incident in a long history of racial profiling and racist murders and another manifestation of a steadily-increasing anti-Black racism. The calls for a federal investigation are growing—including those from the muted and lethargic Congressional Black Caucus. And while Obama has refused to comment on the case, calling it a matter for the local police, the Civil Right’s Division of Eric Holder’s Department of Justice has decided to open an investigation. For most of us, this is a good start.
As of today, Zimmerman has not been arrested or even charged for the murder. The reason? The Sanford police department accepted Zimmerman’s claim that he was acting in self-defense. In a recent article on MotherJones.com, Adam Weinstein has argued that the Florida self-defense and “stand your ground” laws will be key to this case—and may very well keep Zimmerman out of jail. Zimmerman, he says, “may have benefited from some of the broadest firearms and self-defense regulations in the nation.” These regulations make it extremely easy for Florida citizens to obtain permits to carry concealed weapons while those who already hold permits are exempted from mandatory waiting periods when purchasing new guns. Furthermore, the “stand your ground” law allows residents to use deadly force against a perceived threat without having to back down. “Stand your ground” is the most pernicious part of the law, as it allows anyone to use deadly force if they perceive a threat of death or “great bodily harm,” with the assurance that those claiming self-defense will be given civil and criminal immunity.
“The Sanford police department accepted Zimmerman’s claim that he was acting in self-defense.”
But if we are angry that Zimmerman’s non-prosecution is an effect of the Florida “stand your ground” laws allowing – indeed, encouraging – “justifiable homicides” on the basis of perceived threat, we should also be angry about another claim for justifiable homicides that also hides under legal cover: the US government’s targeted assassination program. In a speech to Northwestern University law student in early March, Eric Holder argued that the Obama administration has the authority to secretly target and kill U.S. citizens and non-citizens perceived to be threats without the target knowing s/he is a target, without the target being charged, without the target being given an opportunity to respond to the charges, and without any judicial oversight. “The President and his underlings are your accuser, your judge, your jury and your executioner all wrapped up in one,” Glenn Greenwald has written on this policy, “acting in total secrecy and without your even knowing that he’s accused you and sentenced you to death, and you have no opportunity even to know about, let alone confront and address, his accusations.” How is this policy of targeted assassination different from the Florida “stand your ground” law? At least Zimmerman confronted Martin before killing him.
For those of you who will chastise me as being insensitive to Martin’s horrible death -- or who will insist that the two cases are distinct, let me remind you of the story of Adbulrahmana al-Awlaki. Adbulrahmana al-Awlaki was the sixteen year old American-born US citizen killed by a US drone strike in Yemen in early October 2011. The young al-Awlaki was walking with his seventeen year old cousin and seven other people when he was killed in a “trio of drone attacks,” according to a CNN report. At first, the Western press reported al-Awlaki’s age as 21, ignored the fact of his citizenship, and implied that he was a legitimate “terrorist” target. When the truth of the young boy’s citizenship and age emerged, a US official said, without apology, that he “was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” TIME magazine later asked if the young al-Awlaki was “paying for the sins of this father.” His father, Anwar al-Awlaki had been killed weeks earlier by another US drone attack. While he was well known to Western audiences through US Homeland Security propaganda as a radical cleric and dangerous terrorist, Anwar al-Awlaki’s assassination was carried out without public evidence or due process. But these assassinations were justified by Eric Holder – whose office is now tasked to investigate Trayvon Martin’s murder.
“Trayvon was executed because of a perceived threat; US launches target assassinations because of perceived threats. Both are somehow legal?”
We should be outraged at all of these deaths. Trayvon Martin, Adbulrahmana al-Awlaki, his cousin, and the countless civilians – so-called terrorist targets — who are victims of a US policy of drone strikes and who have no recourse to the law, and no appeal to human decency.
Our righteous indignation and anger over the Trayvon Martin murder has to stretch beyond our community to consider a global humanity – and especially the nonwhite victims of US militarism and racism. We must pause and reflect on the injustice of the US government’s extrajudicial assassinations, and the fact that the Obama administration has claimed the right to kill people in multiple countries around the world whenever it wants. And we also should ask ourselves the question recently posed on twitter by @public_archive: “Trayvon was executed because of a perceived threat; US launches target assassinations because of perceived threats. Both are somehow legal?” Unfortunately, they are. And they are related: the Florida laws are the local articulation of a US foreign policy that deploys murder and mayhem at any sign of a threat—even as our officials generate these threats behind closed doors and without any pretentions of legality. And both Trayvon and Abdulrahmana, Black boy and brown, were victims of a culture of vigilantism masking itself through false appeals to white security.
Jemima Pierre can be reached at [email protected].