The night that Zimmerman was acquitted I was attending a farewell party for a comrade. The news changed the mood of what was supposed to be a festive night into a somber gathering. We couldn’t stop asking: If Zimmerman’s not guilty, then who is? I spent the rest of the night alone, reflecting on what this acquittal meant for people of color living within the United States — and for revolutionaries working towards a systemic shift.
The next day we marched through the streets of New York City and major cities across the country shouting, “The whole system is guilty” — a recognition that not only do we demand justice for Trayvon, but that we want to challenge the whole structure of institutionalized racism and oppression.
Thousands of people gathered at Union Square, marched north through Manhattan, sat down in Times Square and continued to march up to Harlem and all the way to the Bronx. Helping lead the crowd was Christina Gonzalez, a long-time Stop Stop and Frisk activist who is now running for city council as a member of the green party. The next night, after the hustle, bustle and rage of a protest in the Bronx, Gonzalez and I talked strategy, next steps and how to turn this moment into a movement.
Hearing the verdict was a hard moment for a lot of people. How did you feel?
I was at Whole Foods, and my mom called me. I wasn’t surprised by the verdict. Part of me wanted to flip the table; you feel a sense of rage at first. But I am happy it was my mom who called. I have been trying to get her to realize the extent of racism, sexism and classism, and how it affects our lives even though we aren’t aware of it.
I don’t feel sad or disappointed. The system isn’t set up to give us justice. Putting Zimmerman in jail doesn’t feel like justice. It’s just another body in the prison industrial complex. I prefer a reparative solution.
I wish we put all of our efforts and hopes into different ways, not just only marching [for Zimmerman’s incarceration]. Yes, he would be sitting in a cell. But how does that bring justice?
Still, Sunday night’s march was pretty amazing. What struck me most was that people actually left their houses and restaurants to join in the march. Why do you think that was the case?
It shows that the only reason people weren’t there to begin with is because they didn’t know about it. It shows how many people want to be involved but don’t know what’s happening. We need to keep trying to reach them. It’s really easy for the powers to hide information. That’s why we need to be out there, marching. The energy was there. There was a lot of love. And that’s why people joined.
On Sunday a few police officers told reporters they were specifically instructed to make arrests. I was pepper-sprayed, but overall there were only a few clashes. What was your impression of the police at the march?
I assumed they got those orders. But they also know what an injustice the trial was. It was the same when Ramarley Graham was murdered; we were allowed to do basically whatever we wanted. Because they knew they needed to let people get that rage out.
I saw some clubs and some violence. But even the fact that I didn’t get arrested says something to me. [Assistant chief] Thomas Purtell told one of the officers to arrest me. He was saying, “Grab her! Arrest her!” But as soon as he turned around, the other officer pushed me away very slowly.
When we got to Times Square, they didn’t arrest anyone. I knew that they were told to stand down. I understand why. They know they have to let people get that rage out. Also, don’t think the cops were going to beat us in front of tourists. If you see that shit, it will change your life. I think it was strategic.
This hands-off approach also made me think about the recent protests in Turkey and Brazil, where the protests increased due to police violence.
That is definitely a component. That’s what happened in Occupy, too. We got beaten and more people came out.
Speaking of Occupy, a chant on Sunday that stood out to me was: “The whole system is guilty.” To not get overwhelmed by taking on something so big as “The System,” where do we start? What would a success look like?
That’s a good question. I have been thinking a lot of misogyny. Not that I haven’t been thinking about racism — for the past two years, my fight has been against institutionalized racism and white supremacy. But because I have been working so closely with men, sexism has been on my mind. I haven’t left a lot of room for sexism and misogyny in my work thus far.
A small success for me would be men backing down or trying to understand how they are being oppressive. I have men that stand shoulder to shoulder with me as we fight against institutionalized racism. We are together trying to stop young black men from being murdered. But then they turn around and say sexist things.
We are treating women as if we can’t fight next to men. Even during the march last night, two men in Times Square monopolized the speaking time. Men were constantly oppressing women. That is what really stood out to me yesterday. If we can begin to tackle misogyny and sexism, then we are one step closer to overcoming white supremacy.
As far as justice with the Zimmerman trial … I just don’t know. We told the world it’s okay to kill children for fun. It’s not the first time a young man of color has died unjustly. But we continue to say it’s okay.
All of the jurors were women, and only one was of color. How does this tie in?
All I know is, I see women who constantly have to back down. I know that feeling when a man is looking through you. I just feel like it’s so deep inside of us.
People respond differently to black men than they do to white men. They say different things. They take different things. The thought, “Oh but this is a white man; he must be a good guy.” That’s a combination of white supremacy and internalized patriarchy, you know? White men are the kings, and black men are the epitome of evil. I wonder what kind of pressure these women were feeling.
What do you think are the next steps for turning this moment into a movement towards systemic shift?
I guess this is the question. I hate feeling like I don’t know it. It should be so easy, right? It’s just not that simple.
Some people have been saying protest Florida. What does that even mean? No Disney World? No sports? I don’t know what that means. Tons of people just watched that Florida sports game! I want people to give up TV at least. If we decided we weren’t going to pay the cable companies, not only would that immediately cause [life] to shut down, but we would have to come together for conversation and talk about coming up with real solutions.
I feel like we need to boycott something. That’s all we are to capitalism — bodies. We are bodies that work, and bodies that consume. And if we stop consuming and working they will have to listen. It seems crazy that we are screaming “No justice, no peace!” but then we keep going to their stores and working at their business.
We have to make this thing evolve. The same way everyone got tired of sitting in Times Square, if it continues to be marches people will get tired. As the days go by, the cops will have more permission to do whatever they want. They will get frustrated, hot and fed up.
Art is another great way [to keep momentum going]. Spoken word. Music. They serve as an outlet for conversations. I think that art really builds community, by doing those things together. And for people all around the city who have never done marches or rallies before, art is a great way to hook them.
A few people were talking about a strike. What do you think of that idea?
I wonder what it’s going to take people to do that. It’s scary to think about not going to your job. You think: “How will I eat? How will I pay my rent?” We need food and we need shelter, yes. But we need to grow our own food. We don’t need to shop at your stores, and we don’t need to work at your jobs.
For me in order for [a strike] to be effective, it has to be continuous. The Montgomery bus boycotts went on for years. I want it to be continuous; not just a one-time demand. We are looking for serious structural change.