EDITOR’S NOTE: BAYAN-USA is an alliance of 18 progressive Filipino organizations in the U.S. representing youth, students, women, workers, artists, and human rights advocates. Here is their statement regarding the acquittal of George Zimmerman who shot and killed Trayvon Martin.
Filipino Americans under the banner of BAYAN USA are outraged by the unjust acquittal of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a young 17-year-old black man, in Sanford, Florida, last February 26, 2012. The July 13 verdict has proven time and again that the U.S. criminal justice system is not broken, but built to violently target the lives of black people. No matter the racial identity of Zimmerman, the verdict once again perpetuates the idea that Martin was deserving of his tragic death simply because he was black.
Racist U.S. Criminal Justice System
Race and racism are inextricable to the unjust killing of Trayvon Martin. The U.S. criminal justice system has played a historic role in maintaining power in the hands of the white-supremacist, imperialist ruling class. Since the time Africans were abducted from their homelands and brought to the U.S. as slaves, the criminal justice system has denied black people of their basic human rights, often not classifying them as wholly human. African slaves who rebelled, organized, and resisted against enslavement were met with brutal whippings, back-breaking labor, rape, lynchings, and mass killings by law enforcement. In fact, many police departments were founded on the principle of punishing escaped slaves.
The 13th Amendment, which supposedly abolished slavery, contains a loophole allowing slavery and involuntary servitude to continue as a punishment for a crime. Despite the leaps and bounds of the Civil Rights Movement, the criminal justice system perpetuates the criminalization of black people, enforcing laws reminiscent of the Jim Crow era, such as the now infamous “Stand Your Ground” law that let Zimmerman walk away a free man despite murdering an unarmed teenager.
According to law professor and civil rights activist Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”, more black men are in prisons today than were enslaved in 1850. Census data illustrates that African Americans make up 13.6 percent of the U.S. population. In the prison system, however, black men make up 40.2 percent of all prison inmates. The prison industrial complex is both an economic and social tool for the government to perpetuate the status quo while making a profit through the systematic oppression and incarceration of black and brown people. Alarmingly, the number of for-profit private prisons has risen, implying a prioritization of the U.S. ruling class to rid its poor and struggling populations by putting them behind bars, rather than funding much needed social services on the one hand; and on the other hand, using the prison system to repress and contain millions of people who could otherwise organize and mobilize resistance against the violent exploitation of imperialism and fight for self-determination.
The criminal justice system is just one of the systems that structurally disenfranchises and oppresses people of color, specifically black people. The black population is often economically and culturally barred from basic social needs at a higher rate than most, and largely faces a lack of access to decent housing, jobs, education, and healthcare. Black people are overrepresented in the nation’s poor, facing a poverty rate of 35 percent.
Immigrant communities, especially those originating from Africa, Latin America, and Asia, similarly suffer this end as comprehensive immigration reform and other immigration legislation seek to toughen and militarize law enforcement. This move further links the criminal and immigration systems, resulting in an increase in labor exploitation, detention, and deportations of immigrants of color in the U.S.
Solidarity Among Oppressed Nationalities Will Prevail
As we await the upcoming verdict in August of yet another trial regarding the police shooting of Bronx, NY, teenager Ramarley Graham, BAYAN USA upholds the importance of standing in solidarity with the black community in the U.S., as our struggles, although different, are rooted in the violent and white-supremacist system of U.S. imperialism. The oppression of our peoples, which takes various forms, is fueled by the greed of imperialist nations like the U.S., which plunder the world’s natural resources, feed off of cheap labor, and cut access to and privatize basic social needs for the sole objective of multiplying profits for a global wealthy few.
We must resist laws, like the “Stand Your Ground” law, which continually justify the killing of black people, and Stop and Frisk tactics that violate the civil rights of people of color every day. Since the announcement of Zimmerman’s acquittal, BAYAN USA members have been joining protest actions in cities across the country to demand justice for Trayvon Martin, and will continue to do so until justice is served. It is time more than ever to link arms and organize against the systematic violence and injustice against our peoples. It is only through organizing and fighting back can we create a system that defends and preserves black lives and puts power into the hands of the oppressed majority.