July 25, 2013

The Verdict: Trayvon Martin and the Criminalization of Black and Latino Youth

Panel Discussion
The Verdict: Trayvon Martin and the Criminalization of Black and Latino Youth
Saturday July 20th 2013 from 7 to 9 pm
 Multitudes Contemporary Gallery, 5570 Northeast 4th Avenue Miami Florida 33137
The panel explored the “not guilty verdict” following the murder of sixteen years and 21 days old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman within the larger context of the ongoing criminalization and mass incarceration of Black and Latino youth.  Using a multidisciplinary analysis, the panel explored race, racism and racialization in the context of criminal justice systems. As thinking and acting professionals and community members in the State of Florida, we sought to raise additional questions and provide some answers to outstanding issues.


Lorna Owens, Attorney at Law, Miami (Defense & Prosecution Differences)
Jeremy I. Levitt, Professor of International Law/Dean, FAMU(Legal, Racial, Historic Implications)
Brad Brown, Past President, NAACP Miami (NAACP positions on race and this case)
Jahra McLawrence, Criminal Defense Attorney, Miami (Legal Processes in Florida)
Veronique Helenon, University of Massachusetts, Boston (Global Racism)


  • Get more politically informed about prosecutors in different counties, their politics and the power they hold and how their choices can impact outcomes.
  • Educate children very early about the nature of racism and the ways that it impacts them negatively
  •  Continue to educate youth about different strategies to use when stalked.
  •  Be informed as well about your own human rights and if you want to use that option, buy a gun, get a permit and if confronted stand your ground.
  • Be politically active and support political movements and initiatives, current youth movement such as the Dream Defenders.
  •  Run for office especially judgeships and other positions and understand the politics of those running for election as judges; when elected make sure you represent your people’s interests.

Chair’s Introductory Notes - Dr. Carole Boyce Davies, Chair,  FLASC)
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest!”  Ella Baker.

The national outcry following the travesty of the killing of an unarmed black youth and the acquittal of his killer has created a series of responses from people around the world (social media, marches, vigils, tweets, facebook images, blogs, newspaper articles and essays, forums like this one). I was talking to a friend in South Africa this morning who said that he led a forum yesterday which was organized for a different reason but ended up discussing this case.  South Africa once seen as the most extreme location of racism with its apartheid system has since corrected a number of those structures (cosmetically some think) and has like the U.S. had a black leader.  They too learn that having a black leader does not, as President Obama has said, usher you directly into a post-racial world.  We still live within institutional structures of racism which are manifested in all systems – from  media, politics, and leisure to an intense manifestation in the  criminal justice system.

A number of studies have alerted us to the growing inequities in the criminal justice system in which mass incarceration of Black and Latino people has reached proportions way in excess of our numbers.  The U.S. now has the record for the most people incarcerated in the world.  And the ways that injustice has been levied at black people is documented well in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.  Some call it though The New Slavery i.e. that Jim Crow or racial segregation is not strong enough a term.  Instead,  we see a kind of neo-slavery in operation as sentencing of black people is extreme, the labor of black men and women is used within the criminal justice system,  the political system disenfranchises them, affects their future possibilities for work, housing and the like and then ensures that they get policed and then re-sentenced in injustice ways.  The New York Stop and Frisk laws have been singled out by Khalil Gibran Muhammad in his The Condemnation of Blackness.

Florida is now ground zero for these practices, under national and international scrutiny for obvious racial inequity in sentencing and the distribution of punishments for black and white people as the gross differences in the handling and discharging of the Marissa Alexander and George Zimmerman’s cases show and the similarity of the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis cases.  Trayvon Martin in a strange racist twist became the one put on trial, criminalized in dead as “Georgie” was humanized.  What a reversal!  The defense went as far as  to pick up a big piece of concrete and bring it into court to make it seem that this kid was armed with a brick when it is clear to all that  he was fighting for his life in a state with a high proportion of predators. 

Our panel engaged these issues from multiple perspectives in a rich and informative evening.  Here is one response:

“Congratulations on a successful, incisive panel discussion…  Regardless of whether Rachel had worn pearls and a black suit, and was speaking the Queen's English, Zimmerman would have been found not guilty. I must admit after hearing Levitt, it hit home to me how little value we have, especially, in the judiciary system.   I came home very sad, though more insightful.” ~ Lynnette Lashley


The Coalition for the Exoneration of Marcus Garvey is petitioning Senator Bill Nelson, Representative Frederica Wilson, and the Congress of the United States of America for the exoneration of Marcus Garvey:


We are also petitioning President Barack Obama to exonerate Marcus Garvey:


Thank you for your support.

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