~oOo~

2013-07-14

bodies, state power, personhood [thoughts]

Hanna and I woke up this morning to the news that George Zimmerman has been found "not guilty" of the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

I haven't followed the trial closely -- only what we heard on NPR, and the coverage by bloggers I follow regularly -- so this is not a post about what happened and why. Others much more eloquent will do a better job articulating that (see the bottom of this post for updates as I read and link to them).

What I want to say is this:

On June 26th, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling about same-sex marriage that affirmed my dignity as a woman who has married another woman. I didn't need the approval of the Supreme Court to recognize that my marriage is valid. At the same time, there was something profound and powerful about an official state body affirming that my citizenship rights should not be abridged.

The day before, the same institution decided the Voting Rights Act was no longer relevant -- because apparently the poor, powerless, and marginalized don't need additional protections from the powerful and power-hungry to ensure their basic rights and well-being.

And the power-hungry immediately rose to the challenge and began abridging the right to vote.

In the weeks that have followed, we've watched the Texas legislature ram through legal restrictions on women's access to basic health and reproductive services. Women in that fine state (Molly Ivins would be proud), including elected officials, worked hard to stop the further curtailment of women's agency and meaningful ability to determine their own reproductive lives.

The legislation was passed.

Simultaneously, Mr. Zimmerman was on trial for the murder of a young black teenager, Trayvon Martin, whose sole crime was walking while black. I don't know on what grounds the jury acquitted Zimmerman -- although I'm sure I'll find out in the days to come. I wasn't gunning for Zimmerman's blood -- I don't think further violence, state-sanctioned or not, is ever the answer. But when I heard on the radio this morning that the jury had found Zimmerman Not Guilty of murder or manslaughter, my first thought was this: that the verdict represents the opposite of Windsor. It's the erasure of the personhood of Trayvon Martin by the powers that be and by our collective racism.

For if Zimmerman is Not Guilty of having killed Trayvon Martin, who is?

Are we saying murder didn't take place?

Are we saying it was a justified killing?

Are we saying, regardless, that we simply don't care?

I won't speak for anyone who knew Trayvon Martin personally, but for myself I can imagine that more than any punishment George Zimmerman may have faced upon a guilty verdict, hearing the jury speak his guilt for Trayvon's murder in so many words -- affirming Trayvon Martin's right not to be dead and the violation of that right which took place when George Zimmerman shot him -- would have been a powerful step towards truth and reconciliation. It would have been a group of fellow citizens, speaking with the authority of the state, standing up and saying this is wrong.

That didn't happen.

All of these events are profound and immediate reminders of the effect that state power can have, for good or ill, in supporting, affirming, protecting ... or erasing, negating, denying, the personhood of some people (queers, people with uteruses, non-whites, youth, the poor) in the interest of preserving the rights of the powerful not to ever feel afraid or threatened by those whom they don't understand or dislike.

If the Windsor and Perry decisions reminded me of the positive power of state and majority power, Texas and Florida have done their damnedest these past two weeks to remind me of its dangerous perils.

UPDATES [LINKS]:

Brittney Cooper @ Salon | White supremacy, meet Black rage (2013-07-14).

Though much of the mainstream media who have covered this case have convinced themselves that race did not play a role in this trial, a Black kid is dead because being young, Black, and male, and wearing a hoodie in the rain is apparently a crime punishable by death.
James Baldwin @ The Progressive | A Letter to My Nephew (1962-12). via @jsmooth995
This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that for the heart of the matter is here and the crux of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. 
Ta-Nehisi Coates @ The Atlantic | Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice (2013-07-15).
In trying to assess the the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, two seemingly conflicted truths emerge for me. The first is that based on the case presented by the state, and based on Florida law, George Zimmerman should not have been convicted of second degree murder or manslaughter. The second is that the killing of Trayvon Martin is a profound injustice. 
*note: I apologize for originally mis-spelling Trayvon's name with an "e". Not enough coffee. Corrected.

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