BY CHARLES W. CHERRY II
FLORIDA COURIER PUBLISHER
Trayvon Benjamin Martin, 1995-2012, was a child of ours. He was born, raised, educated, and killed in Florida. He wasn’t the first Black child to die as a consequence of gun violence in Florida. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the last to die – even during the month of February 2012.
So after the rallies, the marches, the radio and TV shows, after the social networking tweets, texts, and postings, where do we Black Floridians go from here? A few thoughts, not meant to be a complete list:
• Let’s stop the commercial symbolism. Quit buying Skittles, AriZona Iced Teas, and hoodies. Such symbolism is just making rich White folks richer, and some of them have interests that may not align with ours.
According to Forbes magazine, Jacqueline Mars and her two brothers, John Mars and Forrest Mars, Jr., privately own Mars, the world’s largest candy company, with $31.6 billion in sales last year. Mars candy brands include Milky Way, M&Ms, and Skittles, among others.
AriZona Iced Tea is privately owned by John Ferolito, a rich South Florida resident (coincidentally a large Republican donor) and his partner Domenick Vultaggio. Their company pulls in nearly $1 billion annually.
If you buy your hoodie from Walmart, you are directly supporting the Walton family of Bentonville, Ark. They are Walmart’s largest shareholders and have contributed millions of dollars to GOP and conservative political action committees and Super PACs, including one supporting Mitt Romney.
This is America. Folks rich and poor can write checks to whom they so desire. But don’t you want to know where your dollars, especially for symbolic trifles like iced tea and candy, are going?
And for you Black Republicans, party-affiliated donations are relevant because the GOP “owns’’ Florida politically. The “concealed carry” and “stand your ground” laws that were critical factors in Trayvon’s death were conceived and passed on the GOP’s legislative and governmental watch. Democrats, as usual, could only cuss and fuss.
• If you insist on spending money symbolically, make a donation in that amount to financially support Trayvon Martin’s family. Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, are spending thousands of dollars in travel expenses. They are average, middle-class Black Floridians that we go to church with, live next to, and work with. They have made “justice for Trayvon” their full-time jobs, and that “justice” may be a long time coming – if it comes at all. (More on that later.)
I’ve written about how Black America financially abandoned the families of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, MLK, and other civil rights martyrs in their hour of extreme financial need after the breadwinners of these families were brutally murdered.
Black Floridians are all over social networking, and the Internet makes it easy to contribute online or via smartphone. Some bonafide nonprofit organization should make it its mission to link up with the family’s law firm, Parks and Crump (http://parkscrump.com) out of Tallahassee, to work out the details and make sure the family gets the money. It’s time for us to take care of our own during these tragedies.
• Sanford/Seminole County folks should target Norman Wolfinger for electoral defeat, and Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee should be fired. Full disclosure: I was a Broward state prosecutor early in my legal career. I’m sympathetic to how tough the job can be. But the Martin case, particularly the crime scene investigation, was botched from start to finish. I don’t know many prosecutors who would have made a snap decision, as Wolfinger’s office did, to not even investigate a homicide before the body of the victim was barely cold. The buck stops at these men’s desks – time to go.
• It’s time for us to get “strapped” – legally – and join the National Rifle Association. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow Floridians, like George Zimmerman, are arming themselves to defend themselves against perceived “threats” – including “suspicious” Black males. The Republican-dominated Florida Legislature has made it clear that they prefer concealed weapons registration drives to voter registration drives. In Florida, it’s easier to sign up for a gun permit than to register a voter during a registration drive (they’ll lock you up for turning in the registration card late).
Florida has chosen what’s more important. It’s time for Black Floridians, especially Black male adults, to start packing. If the concealed carry law is all about deterrence and self-defense, brothers have more reason to deter attacks and defend themselves than anyone else in Florida.
• It’s also time for Black Floridians, especially Black men, to “stand our ground” in our own communities. Let’s talk straight. Trayvon’s death was an aberration: a White Hispanic (there is such a thing-google “race vs. ethnicity”) shoots an unarmed Black teen dead. We see Black youth killing unarmed Black youth dead so often that it’s no longer newsworthy.
If I’m going to get strapped to defend myself against the George Zimmermans of the state, I also need to be ready to defend myself (and other Black males), as necessary, against the dysfunctional young brothers who are the products of broken homes, bad schools, prison culture, societal neglect, poor decision-making, and fear.
• Time for our Black military veterans to get in the game. During segregation, Black communities had secret self-defense groups, usually World War II and Korean veterans, who protected the community from violent racists. Such groups existed in Florida and had occasional running gun battles with Ku Kluxers. Can’t our “Desert Storm/Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn” (Iraq), and “Enduring Freedom” (Afghanistan) veterans do the same in the bad streets of our Florida cities? There’s no need for secrecy when you can walk around in Florida with a gun on your hip. And you can train us how to use weapons wisely and defend ourselves.
• Once we are gun owners, we should still push against the National Rifle Association and its purchased politicians for common-sense gun controls. See Marion Wright Edelman’s column on Page A5 for a laundry list.
• We should build coalitions with Florida’s Hispanic and Latino communities. With the exception of Miami-Dade County, non-White Hispanics and Latinos are minorities that could be considered just as “threatening” as are Blacks. Our “Trayvon” could be their “Alberto,” if you get my drift.
• Poverty is linked to a lack of public safety in Black communities. But poverty is not on anyone’s radar screen anymore. That’s got to change, and the “you’re on your own,” neoconservative mindset that has seeped into our communities must die.
• Develop a “movement” built to last for the long term, using technology and especially social media. Nielsen Media Research tells us that Black America uses social media at a higher and more intensive rate that any other demographic group in the country. We can use our smartphones for more than voting on “American Idol.”
• We must take more aggressive action, including civil disobedience and economic sanctions. There’s got to be systemic change to hold lawmakers and leadership accountable for disruptive laws and criminal justice double standards that end up with Black men dead or disproportionately locked up.
Last year, I saw a documentary called “Pray The Devil Back To Hell” about African women who stopped a civil war in Liberia by shaming men into putting their guns down. How? Young and old Black women, including mothers and grandmothers, showed up at meetings between warring factions, took off their clothes, and refused to leave until a peace agreement was reached. (Seeing your mother nude is considered shameful for an African man.)
The story moved me. I asked my mother, Julia, now age 84, if she and other churchwomen would go to the state capital during the session and take off their clothes in the Senate chamber to shame Florida politicians into action to confront the state’s incarceration epidemic, for example. Without hesitation, she said, “Yes, if it would save one Black child’s life.”
Women have POWER if they are fearless. What if wives/wifeys, boos, mothers, and grandmothers of gangbangers and drug dealers did that in our violent neighborhoods? Even hardheads would be shamed into changing their ways.
Here’s something even easier to do. Suppose Black Floridians started an online campaign asking Black tourists not to come to Florida until the state could guarantee that their Black boys would be safe here, in any neighborhood? That’s the kind of commitment we all have to have and harness.
• Continue the pressure until specific goals are accomplished. The initial and immediate goal: Zimmerman should be charged and arrested. Folks should continue to descend on Sanford till that happens.
• If Zimmerman is finally arrested and charged – and I’m sure he will be, probably without a grand jury indictment – be prepared for a “not guilty” verdict. We’ve seen how that’s done. Remember Martin Lee Anderson, the Black teen who was choked to death by guards – while videotape was rolling – in a Panama City youth boot camp in 2006? The trial was held in conservative Bay County and all of the guards were acquitted of aggravated manslaughter charges.
Expect Zimmerman’s lawyer to try to change the trial’s venue to a mostly White, gun-toting, politically conservative Florida county. If Zimmerman gets jurors who are predisposed to believe Trayvon was a threat, Zimmerman will walk. It’s happened before.