What Trayvon Martin Says About Our Politics

What Trayvon Martin Says About Our Politics


The tragic shooting of 17-year old Trayvon Martin presents some very raw political and public policy dimensions that are certain to rear their ugly head in the coming weeks. While some might argue that it’s a bit unseemly and cynical to raise politics as Martin’s family and others are still grieving, the reality is that it’s a necessary analysis.

It won’t go unnoticed that the killing occurred in Florida, which will serve as a key battleground state during the 2012 elections.  The state itself will be hotly contested, and some observers point to the caustic 2000 election decision as an unfortunate model.  Given the state’s very diverse racial demographics, including its large Black and Latino populations, Martin’s shooting may end up becoming an emotional flashpoint that will eventually translate into mobilization on a massive scale.  Brace for that in a big way, particularly if Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, continues to roam free despite his, to date, unapologetic confession to the killing.

The Florida State Conference NAACP is already setting the tone for what will eventually turn into a tense showdown if Sanford, FL police continue to act casually about it. “Given America’s history of racial prejudice and an ongoing pervasive pattern of racial profiling of its minority population, Florida NAACP President Adora Obi Nweze requested the Department of Justice detail personnel to ‘immediately review the facts, ensure that the Sanford Police Department conducts an impartial, thorough and prompt investigation of the circumstances,” was the official statement from the state conference.

While at it, the DOJ may want to evaluate Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, an out Zimmerman is using to its fullest at the moment. “The police have said Mr. [George] Zimmerman, when he was questioned, indicated that he was acting in self-defense, that [Martin] had attacked him and that he had the right to protect himself with a weapon,” noted CNN legal contributor Paul Callan. “Florida is one of about 15 states in the United States that have something called a ‘Stand Your Ground’ law…. And it’s very easy to assert self-defense in Florida.”

Beyond Zimmerman’s point-blank-range and senseless shooting of Martin, the case will serve as a grassroots staging ground for activists ready to show the world what’s wrong with Florida – and American society.  Organizations such as the NAACP were already targeting Florida for its passage of Voter ID laws and other suppression tactics that appear focused on diminishing Black, Latino, senior and youth support for Democrats in the upcoming elections.  Maybe this case will push impacted voters to understand what’s at stake.

The Martin case adds another unsettling layer to that. A White man senselessly killing a Black boy who was “’armed’ only with a bag of Skittles and a can of ice tea” as Nweze puts it in her pointed letter to Attorney General Eric Holder symbolizes what National Urban League President Marc Morial described as an “attack” on Black America when presenting NUL’s 2012 State of Black America report.  Thus, the Martin case is the personification of some very troubling trends, from the implementation of voter suppression laws to crumbling public schools and a disproportionate number of Black youth – especially Black males – who are being targeted for excessive suspensions and punishment or incarceration.

Could Martin’s death become a tipping point for African Americans in the 2012 elections?  It’s possible.  But, it depends on the amount of spotlight and whether activists can link the tragedy to an increasingly urgent situation for Black America at-large. The growing national attention to the incident puts both sides of the political aisle on notice.  Republicans will be blamed for the hostile climate that led to Martin’s death, particularly as details about “Stand Your Ground” start emerging.  Democrats, particularly the Obama Administration, will be pressed to offer both public response and recourse; some may urge the President to express something on the subject (compared to his quick to-the-rescue beer summit for Ivy League Black studies professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.).  But, watch for Obama’s very cautious pause and silence triggered by fear of reprisal from critical White votes at the polls.  He’ll let his Attorney General, the Congressional Black Caucus and others handle it.

What we do know is that the Trayvon Martin case says a lot about the state of our politics at the moment.  It’s not very post-racial and, yes, it is very tense and polarized.  Certain elements in the political process, including decision makers from state legislatures to Capitol Hill, are holding the gun.  People of color are in the cross-hairs.  And the only thing we seem to be armed with these days is a high unemployment rate and a sense that the future is not looking as bright.


  1. Fantastic commentary. Trayvon Martin's case is showing American exactly how "progressive" our society is when it comes to race relations. Why is a teenage boy carrying skittles and ice tea a threat? Unlike George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin has no criminal record and appears to be a normal kid. However even if the victim had a trouble past, no one has a right to steal his life like Zimmerman. My gut is telling me that the police is protecting him which is why they refuse to release the 911 tapes. If Zimmerman was Black and Martin was White, there would have been an arrest. When did cops are taking suspects of MURDER at their word instead of doing a full investigation of the facts? Since Zimmerman has a prior battery charge, he should have been held in custody. I say let the DA charge him and Zimmerman can prove his defense theory in a a court of law. I address these issues as well on my blog. http://www.themoxiesophic.com

  2. I think there is enough evidence to warrant a trial, but Ellison takes it too far by wanting the DOJ investigate the stand your ground law. DOJ has no jurisdiction on state law and it is one incident. The DOJ didn't do anything about the voter intimidation by blacks at a voting center because it was one incident, why would they do so now? In any case police have killed more innocent blacks than people with concealed carry permits and there are many more permit carriers than police.

    Ellison is right that this will get ugly but for the wrong reasons. if this becomes a race issue, which it looks like where it is headed, then people on both sides will ignore the facts and just stick with defending their race accusing the other one.

  3. The bottom line is Floridas stupid "stand your ground" laws. If an armed citizen can randomly confont and shoot you anywhere anytime within the law, we're back to the middle-ages.

    This is not a law, it's an invitation to murder. and those who passed it, should be held responsible.

  4. Stand your dam ground. If some one stupid enough wants to challenge you and you have a weapon the law is on your side. The hell with these wannabe thugs. Maybe more people will start to pay attention and all these dam thugs and criminals will find it harder to intimidate good citizens.

    • Who's the thug in your scenario? the 17 year old lanky kid carrying skittles and iced tea? Or the grown man who against the instructions of the 911 operator, got out of his vehicle, approached a kid who was walking in a public area, then for some reason shot him? I mean, c'mon. Even if the kid swung at you, he wasn't armed. Trayvon Martin WAS NOT ARMED. He was not engaged in any illegal activity. And how about those witnesses who say they heard a kid crying (not a man, a kid) and then a gunshot.

      Let's say you get into a stupid fight with someone over a parking space. Let's say you shove the guy…You even shoved him first! He should be allowed to shoot you?

      A little common sense would go a long way.

    • You're missing the point here Cab. Nobody challenged Zimmermann. Zimmermann challenged and then killed a citizen. He had no evidence whatsoever of foul play, was neither molested, attacked , nor was he on his own property.

      If this is within the law, every citizen of Florida can be challenged by anyone, anywhere, at anytime, and if he does not comply, may be shot dead in "self defence".

      This law is an assault on freedom and upheld, its high time for all men of goodwill to get out of Florida real pronto, because the law of the land is certainly not on their side.

    • Zimmerman was not acting as a good citizen! A good citizen would have followed the instruction of the 911 operator. A THUG would have pursued a unarmed person and drew his weapon without thought.

  5. It was a coward act ant regardless if the man that shot this young man and killed him needs to answer for his crime if it was one of us brothas and sisthas we would be locked up without any questions. I moved to Florida just two years ago and i'm already in the middle of saling my house this kind of shyt has to stop and we as a creed of afican american people have to take a stand now there killing our babies stop voting for these republicans and lets stand together people! This young man was killed and the bullshyt sanford police department has to be broken down to stop this racist bs and the killer has to answer for this crime. my heart gies out to the family.

  6. It was a murder. period. Premeditation is obvious in the killers statement that he looked like he was up to no good. 140lb kid, no weapon, no record. Killer is 250lb and has a record and a gun. Why because he was a black boy walking toward the killer, unfortunately. Now the victim has to prove something here?? I agree, Jeb Bush and this 'law' allowed this outrage to happen. Zimmerman was in complete control. This is totally a DOJ case, and if they don't get involved and try this murderer and try the State of Florida as well…they are guilty of incredible wrongdoing…

    • I appreciate all your comments Danial. However I don’t think the DOJ has the authority to step in about the killing, but I beleve if the “stand your ground” law is being used as a defense for this killer, then the State DOJ should be able to investigate that law. However, I believe our constituion is very specific about when the Federal Govt can interfere with State jurisdicitions. But the legal process for the killing is the responsibility of the State in which the crime occurs. It would be inappropriate and against the constitution of the USA for the Federal Govt to step in to a States law, every time a State did something they did not agree with unless the state law was against the constitution of USA. Also, in my opinion, this should not be an “election” political issue. It should be a State issue involving the shooting of an innocent child. If the killer had been black, there is no doubt he would FIRST be in jail “WHILE” under investigation. The killer should be in jail. THanks for your comments.

  7. Interesting commentary, especially with a case that's still growing. I haven't been able to put a handle on it comfortably, but I do realize the bit of content I have written about it reveals there's an undercurrent of tension that will swell out of control before too long. Good stuff, CD.

    D.L. Chandler

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