Obama’s crocodile tears over Trayvon Martin

Glen Ford
Glen Ford; executive editor of Black Agenda Report



It was a performance worthy of a stage act; the President pretended to cross over to the Black side for a few minutes, in response to the massive Black rage at Zimmerman’s acquittal in the stalking and murder of Trayvon Martin. Fully 87 percent of African Americans believe the shooting was unjustified, compared to just one out of three whites (Washington Post-ABC News polls).

In hundreds of demonstrations and vigils across the land Blacks made their outrage visible, prompting Obama apologists to beseech their icon to say something to contain the black anger.

Obama began his stage act with his “Once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works”. It was an endorsement of the propriety of the trial in which he mouthed 2,100 words designed to indicate that he is aware of a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws. And within the same breath he washed his hands of the matter: “The criminal code and law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels”.

Obama felt bound to carry on; "Stand Your Ground laws are something that might be reexamined if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.”

Obama’s overriding concern was with reestablishing trust in the system. “I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.”

Obama insisted, in closing, that “things are getting better” in America, despite the proliferation of Stand Your Ground laws designed to justify precisely the vigilante murder and acquittal that occasioned his press conference.

The fact is, Trayvon Martin’s death was quite ordinary, as was the impunity granted to Zimmerman by official America. What was extraordinary was the groundswell of furious Black protest, a response so fierce it forced Obama to recall a time when he too used to be Black.

His cop-out that most laws are made at the state level belies the fact that Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are champions of mass incarceration, insulating the federal prison system from austerity, even as he slashes Medicare and Medicaid budgets and the sacred cows of defense and Homeland Security. While state prison populations have declined, the federal prison system continues to grow. For this administration, mass incarceration is top priority.

Filling up those prison beds with Black and brown bodies requires the maintenance and expansion of a monstrous system of hyper-surveillance. Racial surveillance, transforming whole communities into Constitution-free zones, and is the feeder system of the American Gulag. It is the reason that one out of every eight prisoners worldwide is an African American, and that one out of three Black American men will wind up with felony records. Study after study has shown that young Blacks use illegal drugs with the same or less frequency than whites, yet Blacks are far more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for drug offenses, due to massive racial surveillance. You find the crime you look for.

When the president told the nation, last week, that “African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system,” he was attempting to frame white fears of Blacks as practical commonsense rather than racist. In his Philadelphia speech on race in March 2008 Obama denied that racism is endemic to the U.S. But in the real world of pervasively racist America, Blacks are exclusively surveillance, both within and outside their communities. Involvement in the criminal justice system (as Obama puts it) is all but inevitable.

Hyper-surveillance confers the assumption of guilt on the peoples and communities that are targeted. In U.S this means every Black person including Barack Obama, “Until I was a senator”. Hyper-surveillance along with its justification and practice stripped Trayvon Martin of the presumption of innocence, marking him with a fatal presumption of guilt. Two-thirds of whites today believe his death was justified despite the clear facts of his innocence. This is the reason his death is ordinary, because ordinary white people condone such killings.

And so in practice does Obama despite his press conference theatrics. The president has high praise for Ray Kelly, the New York City Police Commissioner who has overseen and defended over five million stop-and-frisks since 2002, overwhelmingly targeting Black and brown men. Obama is looking for a new head of Homeland Security. Ray Kelly is one of the best there is Obama has said.

Obama is well aware of Kelly’s huge contributions to the cause of racial and ethnic hyper-surveillance, and has given his wholehearted endorsement. The First Black President encourages the killing of more Trayvon Martins just as he orders murder by drone in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The rage that forced Obama to don his Black identity must be channeled into sustained political action, a Movement that directly confronts the dehumanization and targeting of Black America at its root: the mega-profiling of hyper-surveillance.