By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
In the 1975 movie, Cornbread, Earl and Me, the young basketball player was slain by police who proceeded to ensure an extensive cover-up of their crime. The story is about a young African-American male killed by police who then engender a massive campaign of intimidation to silence the witnesses to their crime. They even manufacture a criminal record for the murdered African-American youth.
The aspiring basketball star was leaving a store where he had bought a “soda pop”; it was raining and he was wearing what is now popularly known as a “hoodie” when he was shot and killed by police who assumed he was a criminal.
The police attempt to escape justice was almost successful because the entire African-American community was cowed/intimidated (with the exception of an African-American mother and her teenage son) by the might of White supremacy.
The “me” in the title of the movie Cornbread, Earl and Me was teenager Wilford Robinson (brilliantly portrayed by a then 12-year-old Laurence Fishburne http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q30iJPz5yOQ&feature=related) who courageously testified in court, shaming all the cowardly adults who were too terrified to speak the truth even under oath because they were afraid of the power of the police force and other White power structures.
Fast forward to February 26, 2012, some 37 years later where life imitates art and a 17-year-old African-American male is killed by a White man with delusions of being a police officer who is not a member of any police force but seems to fancy himself in that role.
In a gated community in Stanford, Florida, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was returning from buying candy and a can of iced tea when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman who, imbued with the White skin privilege bestowed upon him by a White supremacist culture, felt entitled to confront, challenge and end the life of an African-American.
Racial profiling, the White man’s sense of entitlement and a rush to judgment, resulted in the murder of yet another African-American. Zimmerman was not arrested after killing the unarmed teenager.
In spite of the sense of entitlement displayed by Zimmerman and other White Americans, the history of African-Americans in Florida, and most likely Trayvon Martin’s family, goes back many generations to at least the 1500s.
The recorded history of Africans in Florida begins with the arrival of “Estivanico the Black”, an enslaved African, in April, 1528, who was a member of the expedition to North America led by Panfilo de Narvaez and Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca. The enslavement of Africans in Florida was sanctioned by the Spanish monarch, Philip, when he gave permission in 1565 to Pedro Menendez de Aviles to import 500 enslaved Africans to St. Augustine in Florida. St. Augustine is supposedly the first European colony in North America established by the Spanish in Florida on September 8, 1565.
There has been a history of violence against African-Americans by White Americans since the first enslaved Africans were taken by force to America. The ill treatment of African-Americans in Florida is just one of many examples of this scourge.
One of the earliest examples after slavery was abolished in the U.S. is the massacre of an entire African-American community on January 1, 1923. From January 1 to January 6, 1923, White men roamed the African-American town of Rosewood in central Florida raping and murdering African-American men, women and children. They destroyed the entire town, including the animals that belonged to the African-American families. Even though some tried to defend their homes, they were vastly outnumbered and outgunned by the Whites.
Some African-American women and children managed to hide and fled to Gainesville and eventually made their way to Northern states where they were so traumatized they never spoke of that dreadful time for decades. In 1994, the Florida Legislature passed the Rosewood Bill and the nine survivors of the Rosewood Massacre received $150,000 each, which was hardly any kind of compensation for the trauma and horror they experienced.
Unlike the majority of adults in the movie Cornbread, Earl and Me who were cowed and intimidated by the White power structure when Cornbread was murdered, it is heartening to note that Trayvon Martin’s parents have refused to remain silent about their child’s murder. With the support of the African-American community and many allies they have kept the attention of the world on the fact that there was no justice for their slain child.
The overwhelming support for this grieving couple has come from as far away as London, England when the parents of Stephen Lawrence (the Black British 18-year-old who was murdered by five White youth on April 22, 1993) reached out to offer support.
On Thursday, April 19, the National Bar Association hosted a town hall meeting where Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon Martin’s parents) were in attendance. The National Bar Association is the largest national network of predominantly African-American attorneys and judges. Many supporters at the town hall meeting received posters that read “I am Trayvon Martin, arrest the man who murdered me. No Justice no peace”, which were displayed in support of the family.
Even though Zimmerman has now been charged, it is not the end of this family’s struggle for justice. Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing the family of Trayvon Martin, Clinton Paris of the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs, state Senator Chris Smith, from Fort Lauderdale, Carolyn Collins with the NAACP-Hillsborough County and Tanya Clay House, of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law were among the panelists at the town hall meeting who explained the origins of the “stand your ground” law and discussed the status of the case and the likely next steps in the legal proceedings against Zimmerman.
The town hall meeting and a subsequent press conference were held at the Beulah Baptist Church in Tampa, Florida, where more than 400 supporters gathered to stand in solidarity with the couple. Beulah Baptist Church is Tampa’s oldest African-American Baptist church, founded in 1894, and the members, including the relatives of Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon’s mother), were very welcoming.
I spoke with several members of the family who are devastated that their young relative was killed but relieved that the killer has been arrested and charged. Although the powers that be have denied it, it is obvious that the outpouring of support internationally has played a part in the decision to charge Zimmerman with a criminal offence.
It was the day before their child’s killer would appear for a bond hearing and we were told that Zimmerman had requested a private meeting with Trayvon’s parents. His request was refused because it was felt that the request was self-serving. It was, after all, almost two months since he had killed their child and not once before then had he apologized or even acknowledged the parents of the youth he had shot and killed. It is extremely important that supporters of Trayvon Martin’s family keep informed about the case; if not, this case will disappear into nothingness and become yesterday’s news.
If we do not want this to become another case like that of Stephen Lawrence where it took almost 20 years for his parents to see some of his killers sentenced, we must stay informed. This is not just a matter of justice for an African-American family because it has gained international attention. Zimmerman, although charged with second degree murder, has been released on $150,000 bail and the world continues to watch as this case unfolds.