On Saturday night, July 13, 2013, you could hear the people next to you breathing as thousands of civil rights leaders huddled together listening to the court verdict of the George Zimmerman trial.
On the night of the verdict—at first there was silence, then tears, then anger that could only yield by taking action. Action fueled by a renewed commitment to end racial profiling based on the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, or the visual signifier of their religion.
It’s been eleven days. Eleven days since the trial that put a slain boy, a minor, on trial rather than the man who pulled the trigger. The innocence of Trayvon Martin was denied before Zimmerman even pulled the trigger. America needs to remember that Stand Your Ground laws are steeped in racial profiling; they justify taking deadly action solely on the basis of fear. The law allows fear to determine the innocence of a murder victim. Something is upside down in our legal system.
Since the verdict the President asked the nation whether “We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis.”
Yet, I go back to that room, at the NAACP national conference, when it struck everyone that it was up to them to end the era of disappointment, the time when black boys and men live with targets on their chests. The President’s words just reinforced what we already committed ourselves to do.
Not everyone sees the world the way George Zimmerman or juror B37 see it. Not one of those civil rights leaders standing in silent resolve was willing to leave the work in the hands of men like the President or Mr. Holder—but to strengthen the fights that continues on the ground. Check out what has been happening!
Trayvon’s death brings to light the terrible consequences of racial profiling as a form of discrimination, and of laws that encourage indifference to human life. While the public attention is focused here, we need to do whatever we can to drive the issue home right now. While people can disagree about Zimmerman’s guilt, we should be able to agree that “suspicion” cannot be drawn solely from the color of one’s skin.
The Alliance for a Just Society continues to stand against racial profiling, against unjust laws that tie the hands of a jury when our children are shot. You can support or get involved in the work that our affiliates are doing.
Most of Washington CAN!’s work in the area of racial profiling and policing has been guided by the policy goals laid out in the Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity.
Washington Can! has lobbied and testified on various bills this session related to sentencing, including a negative bill that would have expanded the possibility of life without parole for certain youth offenders. Recently they have partnered with other organizations to shorten sentencing for certain offenses in order to prevent mandatory deportation for undocumented residents; to advance legislation to abolish the death penalty; and to restrict access to juvenile records.
Washington Can! has also worked directly with members to help people avoid immigration detention or deportation, fought against e-verify, and is deeply invested in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. This work includes immigrant members, non-immigrant members, and small business voices.
Maine People’s Alliance
Maine People’s Alliance played a key part of a Bias Based Profiling Commission that produced a report leading the Maine Chief of Police to adopt a policy on bias-based profiling. In addition, every police officer in Maine will be required to take a course on the subject beginning in 2013.
Maine People’s Alliance led letter-writing campaigns and successfully stopped the deportation of Diego Cobo Guzaro and Pedro Chanchavac Xiloj. They were both arrested after an immigration raid on the house where they and other employees of Kon Asian Bistro were living in 2010. Both Diego and Pedro fell squarely within ICE’s prosecutorial discretion guidelines, yet the government had not applied the guidelines to their cases. Neither Diego nor Pedro had any criminal record, they worked to support themselves and their families in Guatemala, and they have lived in the U.S. peacefully for several years (Diego since 2005 and Pedro since 2008). Both would likely qualify under the comprehensive immigration reform proposals now being discussed in Congress.
In Portland 2006, the police had numerous incidences of shooting unarmed Latinos and Blacks. Oregon Action initiated a campaign for reform with former Mayor, Tom Potter. They successfully negotiated Community/Police Listening sessions with 400 people from community and 40 officers to discuss police issues in Portland. At the time, the Mayor was interested in community policing, but took no action. After the campaign, Oregon Action was successful with the implementation of: (1) Racial Profiling Commission; (2) initiating a study of traffic stops to compare the number of stops of people of color and those of whites showing the racially motivated disparities; and (3) created a Community Police Relations committee. Over the last five years, Oregon Action has continued to play a key central role on the Committee.
In 2009, Oregon Action developed a campaign that would put pressure on local leaders to demand that the Chief of Police complete the plan to end Racial Profiling, bring that plan to the City Council for approval, and then to the Mayor for implementation. Oregon Action focused on the cultural competency training element of the plan and increasing diversity of the police force with active recruitment. OA continues to track traffic data to see if the Plan is working.
When Aaron Campbell was shot in 2010, Oregon Action addressed the issue of deadly force resulting in an investigation by the US Dept. of Justice. The city now has a federally required oversight committee to implement changes to address the abuse and use of deadly force.
Trayvon’s death highlights just how significant the work to end racial profiling means to the social justice movement. From tragedy comes triumph and a new commitment. Together we move forward.
The next step in the legal fight will be to urge the Department of Justice to file a civil suit against George Zimmerman.