Homo Sacer: The State of Exception in Violation of Trayvon Martin’s Civil Rights

State of exceptionIn the wake of the Zimmerman verdict everyone is being reminded that America is a nation of laws, the jury has spoken and that we should respect the verdict. Is it lawful to take the life of another when they were not doing anything unlawful? I think we all know the answer to that, no!  George Zimmerman, the jury, a Florida law called stand your ground and countless Americans think that it is lawful.  Here’s how.

Under Carl Schmitt’s state of exception concept, the “sovereign” has the ability to rise above or step outside of the rule of law all in the interest of the public good. In this instance, the “sovereign” is the state of Florida’s through its stand your ground law, courtesy of George Zimmerman. How is this possible? In short, by creating laws that allow exceptions. Normally, it is against the law to kill someone. The exception in the instant case is if you feel that your life is in imminent danger.  According to Juror B37, it was concluded that George Zimmerman felt his life was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, despite being told essentially to not put himself in harm’s way.  At that moment, the law against taking another life was suspended and George Zimmerman was allowed to kill Trayvon Martin with impunity.

Based on stand your ground, Trayvon Martin, too, should have had the right to defend himself against the imminent danger of death or great bodily harm he experienced. But, Martin did not have the right to stand his ground because in this new realm created by state of exception, Trayvon Martin became Homo Sacer.

Homo Sacer, Latin for “the sacred man” or “the accursed man” is a concept in ancient Roman law.  The individual imbued as Homo Sacer is devoid of the rights of citizenship and may be killed by anyone. The status of Homo Sacer is that of a criminal or fugitive. As such, Homo Sacer does not have the protection of the law and can be killed by anyone with no fear of legal retribution.  It is clear that Trayvon, from the moment he was observed by Zimmerman was considered stripped of his citizenship in the gated community to which he was legally and rightfully returning.  He was labeled by George Zimmerman as “a real suspicious guy”, “up to no good” and “on drugs or something.”

Citizenship is a status reserved for those who are deemed full members of a community or group.  All who are endowed with the status of citizenship are equal as it relates to the rights and privileges connected with that status.  Citizenship has at its core equality and enjoyment of civil rights.  Civil rights confer legal capacity to participate and to be full members in civic society.  The notion of a people of law is a prevailing requirement for civic membership.  Citizens are worthy of the protections of the law.  Sadly, Trayvon was not deemed worthy of the law’s protections.

How are individuals worthy of citizenship; how is worth determined and why was Trayvon stereotyped by George Zimmerman as Homo Sacer?  Worthiness of citizenship is determined by the consistency of ones values with those of the group.  Without even knowing anything about Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman determined that Trayvon’s values were questionable, lacking and infringed upon Trayvon’s Civil rights.  Civil rights include the right to be free from unprovoked intrusion, judgment and subjugation by the sovereign and private organizations, (i.e. Florida’s stand your ground law, George Zimmerman and the Neighborhood Watch Association).

Certainly, Trayvon should have been free to eat Skittles, drink Arizona Iced Tea and talk on his cell phone on his way home from the store.  He never made it home; he was not free to do so.  George Zimmerman and the State of Florida, through its stand your ground law violated Trayvon Martin’s Civil Rights.

To Blacks: Keep off the sidewalk!

sidewalkIn the aftermath of the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the death of the unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, Robert Zimmerman Jr. in a post-verdict interview said Trayvon Martin was “… armed with a sidewalk.”  Really?

Sidewalks according to Robert Zimmerman Jr. are weapons.  I thought they were paved walkways along streets for walking on.  I imagine Trayvon was walking on a sidewalk before George Zimmerman got out of his car and began to follow him.  By that logic then, anytime a black person is on a sidewalk, they are to be considered armed and by extension dangerous.

It is a sad day in America when blacks are not able to walk on sidewalks without being profiled, criminalized and killed!

If not death then what will inspire blacks to abandon belief in post racial ideology? The Case of Trayvon Martin

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin jury verdict that declared George Zimmerman, not guilty for taking the life of the unarmed black teen, it is my hope that blacks are rethinking whether America is post-racial, coming to the conclusion that she is not and abandoning their embrace of this false ideology. The election of Barack Obama to the U.S. Presidency in 2008 for many blacks, young and old alike signaled a break from America’s founding blemish. If a black man could make it to the White House, surely America must have transcended race; America must be post-racial.

If so, this meant blacks had no more excuses for not succeeding. No more excuses has become the black post-racial mantra the implications of which have been detrimental for blacks in general and deadly in the case of Trayvon Martin, specifically.

Post-racialism dismisses the net effect of more than 250 years of black slavery, 100 years of state sanctioned and Jim Crow racism and the persistent, insidious current day structural racism as reasons for the status of blacks. Instead, post-racialism speculates, racism has just been a pretext blacks use to explain their group’s socioeconomic status relative to whites and other minorities. After post-racialism convinces blacks to believe that racism is not the reason for their deficits, it encourages them to believe that their resulting situation is really their own fault, the result of their irresponsibility.

Confession of post-racialism is widespread among blacks, reaching fever pitch with the election of Barack Obama as President in 2008 about which Will Smith exuded:

“The history of African Americans is such that you want to be a part of America, but we’ve been rejected so much it’s hard to take the ownership and take responsibility for ourselves and this country. It was like, at that second, at that moment, all of our excuses were gone.”

In response to a January 2009 Black Enterprise article No More Excuses, an online comment by an individual named Mary Alice read:

“Praise the Lord!!!

Now we know anything is possible (we knew all along—that is why we kept pushing day after decade after century). No more excuses. It is time for all of us to up our game. Because we can. No more excuses.”

Even President Obama embraces this narrative and frequently uses it when he addresses blacks in general and black males specifically. Using it in his commencement address at Morehouse this past May, he told these black men:

“We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. Growing up, I made a few myself. And I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. …We’ve got no time for excuses … nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned. And whatever hardships you may experience because of your race, they pale in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured….”

And if blacks believe and openly profess these patently false things about themselves then why shouldn’t and why wouldn’t the “Zimmerman’s” of America believe and profess them too?

After all, when asked about whose fault it was that Trayvon was dead, Robert Zimmerman Jr. in his post-verdict interview with Piers Morgan proffered “…I would find… that unfortunately uh he [Trayvon] had the greater hand in his own demise which was causing by his own hand his death. That’s unfortunate but that’s the reality.” When pressed further by Morgan as to whether Robert Zimmerman Jr. believed Trayvon was responsible for his own death, he responded “Absolutely, I believe that.”

It was a bullet in the heart that killed Trayvon Martin, discharged from a gun in the hand of George Zimmerman, yet, post-racialism blames Trayvon Martin for his own death. America is not post-racial and this lie is robbing blacks of their lives and their liberty. Without these, there can be no happiness. That’s the reality.

Affirmative Action

affirmative actionM. Kelly Carr, an Assistant Professor at University of Baltimore’s School of Communication Design recently wrote a piece for the Baltimore Sun entitled Supreme Court signals the end for affirmative action as we know it.  The actions by the high court continue a disturbing trend in the erosion of policies that sustain socioeconomic justice for blacks and other minorities.

Affirmative action is defined as the taking of proactive steps to ensure that minorities and women are adequately (and therefore, from a historical perspective, increasingly) represented in today’s economy.  In an alleged post-racial America, this is a controversial topic; because, the presumption is things are not as bad and they used to be.  Additionally, if a sub-section of society is given preferential treatment then certainly it introduces biases into that system.

Affirmative action is premised on aiding a section of society to ensure an artifice—representation or to redress loss.  The Emancipation Proclamation was the original affirmative action—freedom of African Americans from slavery—following the Civil War.  The next major move for affirmative action was the Civil Rights movement of the fifties and sixties, where Black leaders with support from White Americans, won equal rights and representations for African Americans—or so they thought.

African Americans were given a start in this country. But this did not guarantee them any freedoms as written in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Thus began the establishment of a caste system that stratified America into those that enjoyed rights (whites) and those that did not (slaves).  Even after slavery officially ended in the United States, this caste system persisted—indeed, slaves were asked to make do with a mule and an acre of land, but nothing in terms of equal rights which might serve to blur the lines of this caste system.  This is not different from the religion based caste system that still persists in some communities in India.  Caste system, whether handed down through religious text or by one race’s fiat, seeks to enforce a dictum that one group of people did not deserve to have equal rights.  This is how blacks found themselves inhabiting shanties on the outskirts of most towns.  They were also forced to flee to areas that would accommodate them for fear of backlash from their former owners.

Despite the issues of commitment to diversity and promises of inclusiveness, institutional racism is pervasive in every walk of American life—from schools to factories.  Affirmative action is the only way to restructure this caste-system that continues to be imposed on the social order in this country.  In a putative post-racial society, however, the only acceptable social remedies are those that are on their face, race neutral.

Writing in The Review of Black Political Economy, Darity and Hamilton (2012)[1] espouse the view that to redress racial economic inequalities “Bold Policies for Economic Justice” must be instituted.  These authors offer two race neutral programs that could work toward eliminating racial inequality, while simultaneously benefiting all Americans.  The first is a federal jobs guarantee and the second, child development accounts.

Sadly, the notion that the correction engendered by affirmative action specifically, or race neutral policies, generally in society that overwhelmingly appear to benefit blacks is often represented as reverse discrimination.  Racism that precipitated affirmative action served to undermine blacks based on false criteria.  Affirmative action and facially race neutral policies that seek to facilitate racial and economic justice for blacks do not wish to do that.



[1] Darity, W. and Hamilton, D. 2012. Bold Policies for Economic Justice Review of Black Political Economy, 39(1):79-85. DOI: 10.1007/s12114-011-9129-8