The George Zimmerman murder trial has begun, and Florida simmers. From the very beginning of the testimony against Zimmerman for the murder of African-American 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, defense attorney Don West went on the attack, trying to make this case not about murder but about race.
After Trayvon’s friend Rachel Jeantel related to the court the horrifying details of her last conversation with Martin during the final minutes of Trayvon’s life, West pounced on her statement that, when Trayvon realized he was being stalked, “He told me that [Zimmerman] looked like a creepy ass cracker.”
This was enough for West to try to portray the unarmed Martin as the racist aggressor in the fatal confrontation that followed. The fact that the 17-year-old was stalked and menaced by a local armed vigilante who had just angrily declared in a 911 call to police that young men like Trayvon “always get away!” no longer mattered.
But the defense was also pounded by the testimony of Lindzee Folgate, the physician’s assistant who examined Zimmerman the day following Trayvon’s murder. She recalled that Zimmerman had not come to her office on his own accord, but rather had been compelled to see her in order to get an authorized medical note allowing his immediate return to work. She described the two cuts on his head as being miniscule and were not in need of any stitches, and she stated that his answers during her examination of him gave no indication that he was suffering from any symptoms of a concussion.
Florida on Trial
As the trial moves on, the State of Florida braces itself in this, only the latest episode in its dark “stand your ground” history. Indeed, the Sunshine State has a horrendous history of racial violence, and once again the forces of racism are gearing up. Zimmerman’s father Robert has written an e-book that claims, among other things, that the Congressional Black Caucus is a “pathetic, self-serving group of racists… advancing their purely racist agenda,” and that racism is “flourishing at the insistence of some in the African American Community.” And the white supremacist movement has turned Robert Zimmerman and his son into some kind of heroes.
As commenters state on Stormfront.Org, a neo-Nazi site, “The minorities have the white population so scared all they have to do is talk about rioting and everyone hides under their desk. We need them to riot! Let them riot when the riot starts we can put these animals down for good!” And, “If it takes the Nigs getting so inflamed that a riot happens, then so be it. As long as the government realizes what happened, maybe all the death and mayhem they’ll cause will be worth it.”
The prestigious Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) ranks Florida number three in the number of hate groups (with 59, behind Texas and California), mainly Klan, neo-Nazis, Skinheads and White Nationalists. The Florida press paints a portrait of conspiracies, paramilitary training centers, Sovereign Citizens in shootouts with police, overt racial murders, cross burnings, death threats against judges and elected officials, attacks on abortion centers, and preparations for race war.
Per the SPLC, Neo-Nazis Plan Patrols in Florida in Wake of Trayvon Martin Shooting, “The National Socialist Movement says it is prepared for ‘racial violence’ in the Sanford [Florida] area, where the Martin shooting occurred, and that it has been ‘contacted by dozens of local citizens’ supposedly seeking protection.”
Stand Whose Ground?
Florida’s proud history includes the Ocoee Massacre in 1920, which saw the “single bloodiest day in modern American political history.” Mose Norman, an African American, wanted to vote on election day, but the good people of Ocoee decided to “stand their ground,” and drove him away. Norman returned with a shotgun but was again forced to flee. Then the good white citizens ran amok, with Klan militia burning down every African-American church, schoolhouse and lodge room in the vicinity. After an evening-long gunfight the residents were driven into the nearby orange groves and swamps, never to return. Witnesses reported stepping over heaps of dead, both white and Black, as dozens of Black bodies were shoved into mass graves.
Then there was the infamous 1923 Rosewood Massacre, in which moonshine-crazed white paramilitary forces — falsely claiming a white woman had been raped (her white boyfriend had done it) — marched on the Black community seeking vengeance. Murdering as they went, the mob was met by fierce gunfire, and after days of battle, dozens Black and white lay dead, the town was burned to the ground, and the survivors either fled through the swamps or were able to escape on a train sent by a friendly white businessman.
In neither case did the African-American community go down without a fight. And racial turmoil and resistance have continued to this day. Tampa saw riots in 1967, the year they burned down Detroit, in 1987 over the police murder of Black mentally-handicapped man, in 1989 over another killing at the hands of the police, and again in 1992 during the so-called Rodney King riots.
Miami burned in 1980, with 3,500 National Guardsmen restoring order after 17 had died. In 1982 and 1989, Miami burned again and again.
The Community Stands Its Ground!
St. Petersburg saw serious rioting in 1996 when officer James Knight shot and killed a Black teenager, Tyron Lewis, who failed to exit his car fast enough during a traffic stop. This was followed by a night of resistance.
According to UhuruNews, on November 13, 1996, it was expected that the white officer would be acquitted, “In order to ‘brace itself’ for the African community’s response to the verdict, the city government decided to launch a preemptive strike against the Uhuru Movement and the masses of people. Prior to the November 13 meeting, police arrested leading members of the Uhuru Movement in anticipation of the verdict to prevent their leadership presence on the streets.
“As the meeting unfolded, people discussed the community’s political response to the verdict. That process was interrupted by an announcement from police who had assembled a battle group of 300 troops outside the doors of the Uhuru House. Over a loudspeaker, a commanding officer declared that the regular meeting of the organization was now an unlawful assembly and that the occupants — which included men, women and children of all ages — had five minutes to leave the building. Thirty seconds later, police began to launch every canister of tear gas they held in the city armory at the Uhuru House. The canisters were also used as incendiary devices to set fires in trees close to the building in an effort to burn the two story structure to the ground.”
UhuruNews continues, “As the police began to move in, members of the community could be seen running out of their homes with buckets of water to extinguish the fires that the police set around the Uhuru House. At the same time, from unknown positions, Africans began to open fire at police troops in an effort to force their retreat.”
A Bipartisan Team
A frequent question from folks up North is, “When there’s really weird stuff in the news, why is it always happening in Florida?”
That’s a very good question. The people of Florida are decent people, a mixture of good and bad, like everywhere else. In fact, a majority voted for Barack Obama in 2012, an indication that they are not as a whole driven by racism. Still, the politics of the state are savage, right wing, murderous in their meager funding of social services, vicious in the suppression of voting rights. Governor Rick Scott brazenly flouts the nation’s own election laws. Yet Florida should be at least a liberal state, so why are its politics so reactionary? Why?
Well, it’s been a thoroughly bipartisan effort. While the Democrats solemnly tut-tut about racism, they divvy up the state legislature between themselves and the Republicans. Over half the seats in the Florida House of Representatives featured either a Democrat unopposed by a Republican or vice versa, and 15 of the 40 Florida Senate seats were similarly unopposed by a major party candidate. This is the state where in 2000 the Democrats let mobs of white-collar thugs literally steal the presidency of the United States. Characters like Democratic Senator Bill Nelson collaborate across the aisle and the Republicans hack away unopposed against essential services. And poor people, in the slums of Miami and the trailer parks of Pasco County and the blueberry fields of Alachua — Black and white alike — live their lives of quiet desperation.
It was a source of amusement when a Florida House member introduced a bill to have the state put out license plates adorned with the Confederate flag, the proceeds to benefit “educational programs run by Sons of Confederate Veterans.” But these pranks are serious business. As the Hernando Heckler writes, “Our weapon of choice in this ‘Culture War’ will not be a musket, assault rifle, cannon, or cavalry, and will instead be money, heritage, history, culture, and with our youth … Instead of hand to hand combat we will fight the Yankees on the roads by proudly displaying Southern symbols on our vehicles for all to see, we will wear Southern flags on our lapels while in church or at the office.”
So everyone respects our “rich southern heritage,” and the “Stars and Bars” fly proudly from the antennas of pickup trucks and front porches. And this rich southern culture provides the sea in which the white supremacists can safely swim. It tells the Klan and the Nazis and the skinheads that, as long as they don’t go around shooting too many people in public, they have free reign to strut their stuff. We get the message. For as long as this far right wing is able to operate out in the open, all progressive activity in the state lives in fear.
That will not change without there being an independent alternative.
The Green Party Answers
Now St. Petersburg awaits the Zimmerman verdict. “Race relations here were horrible then, and they are horrible now,” stated Bruce Wright, long-time St. Petersburg activist, member of Green Party 2012 presidential candidate Jill Stein’s Green Shadow Cabinet, and the Pinellas County Green Party Shadow Sheriff. “The Trayvon Martin case is only the latest incident in a long line of racist attacks, and the least we can do is repeal Stand Your Ground. But official policy is still to contain the Black community with aggressive force. The police don’t live in the communities they police, they aren’t part of the neighborhoods. Instead, they are a militarized army of occupation. They don’t protect and serve, they harass and harangue. But what we really need is community building.”
Wright charges, “Our officials are not interested in removing the causes of violence. All they offer is police containment, while our people are crying out for economic development. And that development has to include, and in fact be led by, the very people impacted. It’s the only answer. On this, the Green Party will stand its ground.”
– submitted by Rose Roby and Jeff Roby