When George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, it brought home to all of us how little has changed since Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi, nearly 60 years ago. Emmett, like Trayvon, was visiting relatives in a place where he was not known. Like Trayvon, he was murdered after a trip to the grocery store. In Emmett’s case, he was killed for speaking to the wife of the store owner’s white owner.
The Zimmerman verdict came down ironically the weekend that “Fruitvale Station” opened in Oakland. Watching the film, as well as protesting the failure of justice for Trayvon’s family, reopened the pain and anger of the days following New Year’s Eve 2009, when Oscar Grant was killed by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle.
But what the film does not portray is that it was popular resistance that forced the district attorney to prosecute Mehserle, and led to his conviction, although he received a very light sentence. (See an interesting perspective on his sentence in Mother Jones.)
Ultimately, it is not the criminal courts which will ever deliver justice for oppressed people in this country. Courts and prisons exist to perpetuate racism and inequality, as Michelle Alexander has so devastatingly documented. Only our unity, determination and creative energy can create a world in which murders like Emmett’s, Oscar’s and Trayvon’s can never happen again.
The creators of the brilliant website and hashtag #BlackLivesMatter ask the question, “what are you doing to make sure that #blacklivesmatter?”
This is the beginning of our answer. We need, first of all, to make sure no one can forget.