Did Capitalism Kill Trayvon Martin?
The death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin has sent shockwaves through communities across the United States, reminding us that while racism and racial profiling may not be as open and rampant as it once was, it sometimes rears its ugly head with deadly results.
Some San Diego residents rallied and marched Monday, March 26, in many ways making sure their collective voices were heard about the death of this innocent teenager.
It really was a beautiful moment to see a community come together on an issue, particularly one that has forced many of us to reach deep down inside ourselves and examine any prejudices that may reside there. But in our examination of those prejudices, is it possible that they’re really a by-product of our present economic system? In the grand scheme of things, is capitalism really to blame for the death of Trayvon Martin?
It was after I saw the first sign alluding to the capitalism and racism issue that I really began to question whether or not people were losing sight of the real problem, which to me, is that a man stalked and murdered an unarmed teenager because he didn’t like the way he looked.
The signs themselves, carried by at least a dozen marchers as they walked through the streets of San Diego shouting things like, “No justice, no peace! No racist police!” and “We are all Trayvon Martin!” were adorned with the following quote from Fred Hampton: “Racism is a by-product of capitalism.” At the bottom of the quote, there was a web address: www.pslweb.org, which belongs to the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
I had very little knowledge of who Fred Hampton was, but I did connect his name with the Black Panther Party. After a little research, I discovered that Hampton was the deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers, and was killed by police in a raid on his Chicago apartment in 1969.
I was intrigued by these signs, especially after I approached several of those who carried them and asked some questions. The first three didn’t know who Fred Hampton was, what the quote meant, or anything about the Party for Socialism and Liberation. I was given basically the same response from all three: “I don’t know. Someone just gave this sign to me.” Of course, I would never think to carry a sign like that unless I knew what it meant. And this is what bothered me.
Later, when the crowd had finished the march and gathered around the steps of the Hall of Justice, I lurked around the edges, just watching people, particularly those carrying signs. When I finally approached 67-year-old Mary Lou Finley, she didn’t hesitate to speak to me. And unlike the others, she had some answers. She was an older white woman, gray hair flowing from underneath a red baseball cap, her hands gripping one of the Socialism and Liberation signs. She was moving slowly, weaving her way through the throngs of shouting marchers. I followed her for at least twenty minutes, watching as she listened intently to the speakers trying to be heard at the front of the crowd. Every now and again she would raise her arm in the air with a closed fist. She was an older woman, but there was still anger in that raised fist of hers, a fire in those eyes. Passion. And of course, there was that sign in her hand.
“Capitalism in this country is based on the slave trade,” was the first thing that Mary Lou said to me. She went on in some detail about the history of the United States, and how the exploitation of African-Americans has fueled our economy from day one, with law enforcement agencies still operating under the assumption that all African-Americans are criminals, simply because in our capitalist society, a majority are poor.
But is this really the issue? Mary Lou told me that places like Cuba are vastly superior, where everyone has free health care, education, and, according to her, a lower mortality rate.
But what about freedom of speech and the press? If the Trayvon Martin murder had taken place in Cuba, with the shooter walking free, would we be able to march down the street and let the government know that we weren’t happy about it? As a reporter, would I have been able to stand there in the middle of such a demonstration and report what I’d seen with no restrictions?
All of that aside, what about our economic system? Is it really designed to make the poor poorer, and the rich richer?
No. The answer, in my opinion, is no. While the hurdles for the disadvantaged may be greater, that’s all they are: hurdles. They’re not roadblocks. You may just have to jump a little higher. There’s no one standing there to greet you with a gun telling you that you can’t do it. And there are scores of people who have jumped those hurdles.
Does that mean that I think our system is perfect? My answer is an overwhelming hell no. But I don’t think that people should use the Trayvon Martin case as an excuse to push a socialist agenda. What about the real issue?
Again, to me, the real issue is that George Zimmerman, a wanna-be cop, and over-zealous citizen, decided to stalk and murder an unarmed teenager because he didn’t like the way he looked. And yes, you read that correctly: I used the word murder. No need for euphemisms.
And the police department, acting under a Florida law, let the murderer walk free. Toxicology reports were conducted on Trayvon’s body, but none were conducted on George Zimmerman. Why?
The question is, would this have happened if Trayvon Martin had been white? Of course not. George Zimmerman would have been locked up in a New York minute. And would Zimmerman have stalked and murdered Trayvon Martin if he had been white? Of course not.
But what does any of this have to do with capitalism? It doesn’t. Plain and simple.