EDITORIAL: Occupy for Trayvon
Occupy for Trayvon
Why Occupy Phoenix Should Be Involved and Visible in Actions for Trayvon Martin
An editorial by L. Karp
I would argue that those who really don’t want a tragedy like Trayvon’s to happen again shouldn’t just don a hoodie, print out a picture, and decry racism—they should also support and cheer on Occupy’s involvement.
On Sunday, March 25th, over a thousand members of the Phoenix community came together to share their anger and solidarity over the death of Florida youth, Trayvon Martin. There were children and elders, college students and union workers, members of the community painting a wide range of color and gender identity. In many ways, this was a unifying issue. I was there, wrapped in my black hoodie, “No More Death” and “Occupy” buttons secure in their now near-permanent place near my shoulder, my new (hand-me-down) camera around my neck. Looking out at the crowd, estimated as high as 2,500 citizens, I should have been feeling a sense of hope and awe. Instead, I felt a creeping sense of annoyance.
This is not an Occupy Phoenix event!
March organizer Jenni Troy, a mother from nearby Scottsdale, was speaking up on the stage. “This is not an Occupy Phoenix event!” she declared with vigor. The crowd cheered. I paused, confused. There were a lot of groups at the event that day. Many sporting NAACP shirts, Obama shirts, MoveOn buttons, and other advertisements of their associated organizations or support. And, yes, there was a solid Occupy Phoenix presence. But Occupy was the only organization officially called out from the stage.
At first, I shrugged it off. After all, a decent amount of the Occupiers were located near the stage and I could see her wanting to keep focus on Trayvon and the march itself. However, halfway through the march, she made a speech again and repeated, this time with seemingly more annoyance and malice: “I repeat! This is not an Occupy Phoenix event! This is about Trayvon!”
After the march was over, I positioned myself with the “press” talking to Ms. Troy and asked if I could ask her a few questions. At the top of my list was asking about both comments. Why, I asked her, single out Occupy Phoenix? Why not be inclusive and celebrate that all types of groups– from Occupy, to Code Pink, to MoveOn, to the NAACP, to the Unions; we all felt united by this issue. “I’ve said that,” she said. She sounded more than a little annoyed with my question. “But Occupy Phoenix kept commenting on my facebook page. They were trying to take over and act like this was their event.”
I said that I hadn’t seen that. In fact, I mentioned, I knew about the event through Occupy promotion and they had, in everything I’d seen, gone out of their way to make it clear that this was not, in fact, an Occupy event but instead an event that many members of Occupy would likely support. She shook her head. “That’s not what I saw. And they were back there with their Occupy chants, being disruptive. I thought it was disrespectful to Trayvon.”
An activist who I talked to after the event shared with me a different side of the story. “They were the ones who started the ‘call for justice’ chant,” he said. He also noted that Ms. Troy “was trying to get people’s attention for her speech. Some Occupiers tried to help out and get everyone’s attention using a mic-check. She yelled at them and said it was a disruption.”
Other Phoenix activists who have been involved in Occupy Phoenix and anarchist protests in the past agreed that they had seen some concern brought up on the march’s original Facebook page about the involvement of the police in Ms. Troy’s event.
Medics who volunteered to help were told that they couldn’t know the march route and that the police would reveal it on the day of the event. Ms. Troy made it very clear that, while she suggested a route, it was the Phoenix police who ultimately dictated where the march would be. One protester noted that “the whole thing had Scheiwkert’s fingers all over it.”
As someone who has participated in many marches now, I will admit to some confusion over the route myself. Ms. Troy and the police escorts took the march through many near-empty streets, filled with blockages and construction, away from much of the downtown public eye. The march route seemed designed to avoid delays and inconveniences for commuters more than anything else.
And even if that wasn’t the original intent, there is a real tension with many of the emotions of the marchers with having such active police involvement and presence. When asked, Ms. Troy implied that she didn’t share others’ feelings about the police.
“She’s relatively young, white, and from Scottsdale,” one activist laughed when I brought the conversation up. “I understand. I once trusted the police… Heck, I was once young and from Scottsdale too.”
When the march was over, many protestors lingered at the park, seemingly unsure what to do about their feelings now. Ms. Troy and her colleagues had ended their planned event with a cheer of “We did it! Justice for Trevon!” and a hopeful prayer. Others, however, were still chanting, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
I asked Ms. Troy about her upbeat attitude and the tone of celebration at the end of the march, specifically the “We did it!” assertion.
“I was talking about us finishing the march,” she said. When I explained that, in context, it almost didn’t come off that way and that many still felt incredibly angry about the death, the complicated role of race in the case, not to mention the police’s role, she half shrugged. “I understand people being angry,” she said. “I’m angry too… [but] what will that do? If you’re angry, do something. I made this facebook event.” She said, rather than anger, she wanted to focus on solidarity and everyone coming together.
I bristled a bit at that. Yes, okay, sure… she wanted to celebrate “everyone” coming together. But not if that “everyone” is Occupy?
And perhaps the reason for Ms. Troy’s reaction and for the cheers is that many feel that the tragedy of Trayvon isn’t Occupy’s “issue.” This is an issue for parents, and students, and the black community—somehow separate from politics and other activism.
However, I’d like to challenge that idea. In many ways, the Trayvon Martin story is exactly why Occupy—and perhaps even more specifically Occupy Phoenix—still needs to be vocal and active. This is an Occupy issue, or at least one very intersecting with Occupy activism, at its core. In fact, I would argue that those who really don’t want a tragedy like Trayvon’s to happen again shouldn’t just don a hoodie, print out a picture, and decry racism—they should also support and cheer on Occupy’s involvement.
Now, you may think I’m overstating Occupy’s “mission,” but let’s examine what Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Phoenix are actually trying to do.
In Occupy Wall Street’s Principles of Solidarity, the goals of “[e]mpowering one another against all forms of oppression” and “[r]ecognizing individuals’ inherent privilege and the influence it has on all interactions” and thus working toward a “greater possibility of equality” are all mentioned. There is no question that the main conflict in the Trayvon Martin case is about power and privilege and how they interact. The outrage is over the inequality in how someone like Trayvon—young, black, and dressed in a hoodie—would be treated by police versus an adult, Caucasian (for all intents and purposes, Zimmerman passes as and has ‘white privilege’ in a way that Trayvon wouldn’t, regardless of his Hispanic heritage) man. Also, the lack of privilege that Trayvon had in being assumed a criminal and a threat, and thus acceptable to shoot.
At Sunday’s march, Jenni Troy began the event by declaring that, even though Trayvon’s death occurred in Florida, “It could have happened here!” Yes. And this is something that Ms. Troy and I can agree on.
“It could have happened here!” Yes. And this is something that Ms. Troy and I can agree on.
When it comes to racial profiling, it’s no wonder that so many of Sunday’s protestors were still angry despite having “done it!” and completed walking around empty downtown streets. After all, it’s not ancient history that Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the USDOJ and one of the nation’s leading experts in racial profiling, stated that he found “the most egregious case of racial profiling he has observed in his work in the whole United States or even in reviewing of the literature” here in our home state of Arizona.
The Arizona ACLU has released report after report showing that, here in Arizona—and most especially around Phoenix—racial profiling is institutionally the norm in police business. One ACLU-Arizona study found that people of color were searched more frequently by DPS officers (at least twice as often, in most cases) than white motorists on Arizona Interstate highways between 2006 and 2007. However, white motorists were actually found to be statistically more likely to be carrying said contraband. The DOJ report also cited that, here in Phoenix, Arpaio’s squads responded repeatedly with more enforcement patrols to complaints called in about people with “dark skin,” regardless of whether those complaints included details about any actual crime being committed. The police would respond to these tips, of course, all the while ignoring over 400 cases involving sexual violence against Phoenix women.
As outspoken critics of Arpaio’s office and police action in our city, Occupy Phoenix has a role in local action for Trayvon on that issue alone.
However, that issue is, in fact, not the only intersection of OPHX’s activism and the case of Trayvon. As more and more people are learning, Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law is the main excuse police have used as to why Zimmerman was not arrested for Trayvon’s murder. Reflecting on this law on this Monday’s The Daily Show, Jon Stewart joked: “I feel like Florida and Arizona are locked in a harm’s race.”
Stewart’s comparison between the horrible laws passed in both Arizona and Florida is no accident, whether he realized this or not. In fact, laws like Stand Your Ground and SB1070 have eerily similar origins. While Paul Krugman wasn’t the first news commentator to draw this connection, he did state it the most clearly: “[L]anguage virtually identical to Florida’s law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence… if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.”
Many Occupies have held action against ALEC, but Occupy Phoenix has constantly proved itself to be on the front lines of the ALEC fight. Not only was ALEC’s annual conference held here in our home city, but Arizona legislators are members of ALEC on a disproportionally large level. This has been some of the reason for such passionate action against ALEC—most notably on November 30th and February 29th.
While institutional (and non- institutional) racism may seem like the easiest target for outrage after Trayvon’s death, the full context of the tragedy and lack of justice is made possible through a mixture of police apathy and the existence of Florida’s ridiculous and harmful law.
And so, I agree, Ms. Troy. The march on Sunday was not an Occupy Phoenix event. No one, as far as I could tell, ever said it was. However, Occupy Phoenix not only should have been respected for their presence and solidarity, but it’s worth noting that their concerns about police involvement in the march and their “disrespectful” chants for justice are perfectly in line with what all the outrage about Trayvon’s death is about. While I, along with many in the Occupy Phoenix community, am heartened to see so many people caring about Trayvon Martin’s death and so many diverse faces coming together for a common goal, I still think it would be a disservice to our community as a whole to ignore the political implications of this tragedy. Occupy is not minimizing Trayvon’s death—they’re trying to raise awareness and take action so such an event cannot easily happen again.
Video of Sunday’s March for Trayvon available here from OPHX’s YouTube channel:
NOTE: Another Phoenix, AZ Rally for Trayvon is occurring this Wednesday at Cesar Chavez Plaza. Like the previous event, it is not organized by OPHX, but many occupiers will be there in solidarity.