The wrong-minded and upsetting verdict in the Zimmerman trial this evening only further confirms my suspicions concerning American jurisprudence concerning original peoples. The clear victims here are Trayvon Martin and his family and Black/Brown people who live in a nation that does not value or defend them. Yet this is not the last or even most important verdict in question. This article aims to briefly discuss and explain the REAL verdict we must tune ourselves into.
I’ve written extensively about such issues all year from a variety of angles and don’t want to be redundant here. I will say that this decision reflects a national and historical trend and attitude toward Black people that was born some 4 centuries ago and that has manifested itself in so many forms. People like myself (and we are legion) ALWAYS assume an adversarial position concerning American institutional views, values and practices concerning US. At this very minute, all over the internet and in our communities, well-meaning and intelligent Black people publicly express their disgust over the verdict and all it represents, then in the next breath urge us to “Be peaceful,” “Choose our words carefully,” and exercise “understanding” and “restraint.”
Our fear, powerlessness and submissiveness has of course been socially conditioned. So even with mountains of evidence suggesting otherwise, we continue to take positions which undermine us and leave ourselves and our children vulnerable in a climate that is hostile to our very presence. We continue to complain without organizing; We continue to expect outcomes without doing the work required to produce them. We continue to finance, defend and “explain” the very systems and culture that brutalize, murder, exploit and oppress us; We continue in our negligence to hold people and institutions responsible for our pain and suffering accountable; We continue to maintain our faith and support of these systems rather than creating alternative systems for us by us that serve our interests; And, we continue with each betrayal, disappointment and violation, to act as if these conditions are new or surprising. If we continue to do the same things, we’ll continue to get the same results.
The great Frederick Douglass maintained the importance of resistance and it’s relationship to oppression: “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.” These words are just as true today as they were when he spoke them in the 19th Century. Yet we collectively fail to internalize and implement them.
My condolences go out to the Martin family and to their extended family of fellow Black people, because a small part of us died along with Trayvon Martin, and all the other Trayvon’s and Emmit Till’s throughout our history. But the ancient African mystery systems believed that death came before resurrection. Whatever anger, bitterness or frustration we feel must be channeled into constructive and productive action. It is my hope that with this verdict, our fear, disunity and apathy will die and that true revolutionary thinkers and activists, educators, business people, parents, students, and institution-builders will emerge phoenix-like from those ashes. That is the REAL verdict WE must pronounce for ourselves if we truly desire to be free.
Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.