The recent arrest and charging of George Zimmerman with the murder of Trayvon Martin is cause for celebration. However, this is only the beginning of a long struggle for justice, not just for Trayvon but for all. As concerned citizens we can take a second to congratulate ourselves, but we cannot wait too long before channeling the energy of a moment into a movement for justice.
In the past twelve months, the names Trayvon Martin, Troy Davis and Oscar Grant have been forced into the national consciousness via news, protest marches, as well as social media, but as quickly as they’ve come into our minds...they then disappear. I’m not sure if short attention spans drive short news cycles or if short news cycles drive short attention spans, but the two correspond. Recognizing this means we must make sure justice is pursued in each case and that we must also make sure our activism doesn’t end when we feel a case has been settled.
Just last year, Troy Davis became a household name after nearly 20 years on Death Row. As his case gained notoriety, celebrities, politicians and everyday citizens called for “Justice for Troy.” Unfortunately, Davis was executed on September 10th, 2011. Many who fought against the death penalty in his name joined in because there was considerable doubt that Davis was guilty. As the marches took place, community and national organizers called on us to support Davis but also rethink the death penalty being an option for our justice system. The Troy Davis tragedy was a moment, but there was/is a need to have a movement to stop the death penalty so that this moment doesn't repeat itself. As his sister Kim Davis put it, “The fight was bigger than Troy. We’re fighting against the system.” And this was confirmed this week when Connecticut’s state legislature voted to repeal the death penalty. As Troy Davis’ name fell from national media attention, the fight to end the greater injustices that took his life continued. Even when the media loses sight, we cannot.
The execution of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California was yet another example of lack of value placed on Black life. Grant was shot and killed by Officer Johannes Mesherle while he was handcuffed on the ground at a local train station; his murder was captured on a number of cell phone videos. Mesherle was tried and convicted of involuntary manslaughter and released after serving just 11 months of his two year sentence. When Grant was killed, people rallied. When Mesherle was on trial, people marched. And when Mesherle walked out, many of us did not notice because “justice” had been served via the courts already.
Sadly, the court system has never adequately provided justice to people of African descent in the United States. Thus, we can't wait for the courts to provide justice for Trayvon Martin. Instead, we owe it to ourselves, to Trayvon, to Troy, to Oscar and the masses of others who remain nameless or go unnoticed by mainstream media that our activism fights for them as individuals but also against the greater inequalities that made their cases possible: racial profiling, police brutality, violence (in all forms), mass incarceration, and the list goes on and on. Let us fight not just for a moment, but let's allow our fight to transform into a movement that shakes this social order to its core so everyone can enjoy "liberty and justice for all."
Dr. R. L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York. His work concentrates on race, education and gender. You can follow him on Twitter at @dumilewis or visit his offical website