Monday, March 26, 2012

Tribe over Tribe; Community Against Community

The picture that emerges from Sanford, FL, where Trayvon Martin was killed by a self-appointed neighborhood cop in a gated community is a picture of a society moving toward de-facto apartheid.

Gated communities patrolled by non-governmental civilian forces, on the lookout for people "who don't belong here."

It is a continuation of patterns of power and violence from the past.

There are parts of this country where, for a long time, the social structure was one racial community controlling another racially defined people.  White people over the slaves and the former slaves.  The settlers over the natives.  These social systems were not maintained and enforced only by police and troops, but also by community mobilization.   Every white was seen as having the duty to help control every black.  Any white over any black.

Lynching were demonstrations of the collective power of the white community to control the African American  community.   Individuals who were thought to have violated the rules, the boundaries, were singled out for brutal and public execution -- unofficial, outside of the law.  A lynching showed what the real relations of power were.  That every level of government looked the other way made it perfectly clear.

George Zimmerman obviously thought that was the way that it still worked. He thought he was exercising legitimate power as a white person patrolling his community against black marauders.  Think of it, he shot a person while on the phone to the police.  He expected to be supported by the government.  And, considering the fact that he was not arrested, it was not a crazy expectation.


"Right to Carry" and "Stand Your Ground" and other such legislation is all based on this "all of us  control all of them" thinking.  They enable vigilantism, in that they carve out a space for non-state forces (neighborhood watch groups, for example) to use violence.  But, the rule of law assumes that  legitimate violence can only be exercised by the state.

The family of Trayvon Martin, and all of us who support them, have a pertinent question to ask.  Will every level of government look the other way -- giving the benefit of the doubt to white "defenders of their neighborhoods and communities?"

The reminder from President Obama that if he had a son, he would like Trayvon is a reassurance that "no;" every level of government will not.

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