AlterNetAmong the marchers, an elder woman could be heard crying, over and over, to any who would listen: “I’m tired! I’m tired! I’m just so tired!” For this woman and others I spoke to, the story of Trayvon Martin’s murder remained freighted, not only with the weight of the Martins’ unspeakable loss, but with the weight of a history too often left unspoken: above all, the long history of legalized murder extending from Judge Lynch all the way to George Zimmerman.
Extrajudicial “justice” came into its own in this country with the posse comitatus, the slave patrol and the Fugitive Slave Laws of the 19th century. It continued into the 20th with the lynch mob, the Vigilance Committee, the Citizens’ Council and the Klan. And it lives on today in the citizens’ patrol, the Minuteman militia, the Patriot movement — and your local precinct. For white-on-black violence has historically found willing perpetrators in police departments like Sanford, Fla.’s, as much as in private “neighborhood watches” like Zimmerman’s.
This is a history of violence we have yet to truly reckon with. It is a history that teaches us, not only that violence begets violence, but that legalized violence on the part of the state begets extralegal violence on the part of private citizens — violence, above all, against those marked by race, religion, or presumed place of origin as illegal, criminal, or “out of place.”
Immigrants, too, have been targeted for extrajudicial execution, from the murder of 9-year old Brisenia Flores at her home in Arizona in 2009 to the fatal beating of Shaima Alawadi, an Iraqi-American mother of five, in a suburb of San Diego just last month. Since 9/11, waves of anti-immigrant violence have coincided with waves of raids and round-ups by federal, state, and local agencies. Such hate crimes have been concentrated in counties (like Suffolk, N.Y., and Maricopa, Ariz.) where law enforcement has been known to engage in rampant racial profiling.
Every surge in white-on-black and white-on-brown violence has followed a series of signs and signals, of winks and nods from lawmakers, law enforcement, and legal practitioners. The most obvious are the “Castle Laws” and “stand your ground” statutes, which legalize the use of lethal force by private citizens. Less obvious, but equally insidious, is the reign of impunity for police officers who shoot to kill. And those who seek some measure of justice find the police as unwilling to investigate white vigilantes as they are to hold their own officers to account.