Who killed Trayvon Martin? What “Stand Your Ground” and the foreclosure crisis have in common

By Brett Srader

Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager, is gunned down in central Florida and his murderer walks free. Monique White, an African-American mother of two in North Minneapolis, loses her state job working with troubled teens because of drastic budget cuts and subsequently misses her mortgage payment. Trayvon was a black boy in a predominantly white gated community carrying only a bag of Skittles and an Arizona iced tea. Monique lives in a predominantly African-American community where 50 percent of properties have been foreclosed on or are currently in the foreclosure process. Her home is now worth a fraction of the price she paid for it, and she faces an imminent sheriff’s sale of her family home. You might be asking, “How are these stories connected?” The answer has become clearer over the past month that the same people foreclosing on Monique’s home and slashing state and federal budgets are creating laws that are protecting Trayvon’s murderer. My journey to this realization started with a simple question: “Who killed Trayvon Martin?” The obvious answer was George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman carrying a loaded firearm. However, this answer has not satisfied the millions of Americans who were mobilized to demand justice for Trayvon. They wanted to know how Zimmerman’s actions could be “legal,” who wrote and voted for these laws and what their role has been in the centuries-old war against people of color and working class folks in this country. These inquisitive Americans soon found that they were fighting systemic and legally codified racism and a corporate highjacking of our democracy/legal system. George Zimmerman was not initially taken into custody by Sanford County police officers because it was believed that he had been threatened by Trayvon and responded accordingly to this aggression. This argument for lethal force was codified under Florida’s so-called “Stand Your Ground Law,” which allows an individual to use “deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony (Salon.com).” At least half the states in the country now have some form of “Stand Your Ground” law in place, and Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) only recently vetoed a similar bill in Minnesota. ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, initially backed this law in the Florida Legislature and has since used the Florida law as a model in an effort to encourage other states to adopt similar legislation (NPR). ALEC is comprised of and funded by a conglomeration of corporations in a variety of industries including corrections, oil, manufacturing, banking, finance, transportation and pharmaceuticals. Our legislators can also become dues-paying members, gaining access to the exclusive retreats where “model” legislation is developed and voted on. Through my involvement in Occupy MN last year and more recent work with Occupy Homes, I had become increasingly familiar with ALEC and their influence. I knew they were behind the spread of voter ID laws, Arizona’s SB1070 anti-immigration bill and Gov. Scott Walker’s assault on collective bargaining. However, I was not sure what relationship the major banking institutions behind the foreclosure crisis had with ALEC. I soon found that all the major banks, including Wells Fargo, a MN-based bank that has foreclosed on tens of thousands of homes since the 2008 financial crisis, are deeply implicated in the work of ALEC. While not a member of ALEC, Wells Fargo is heavily invested ($120 million) in two private prison corporations who are members: Geo Group and the Corrections Corporation of America (Salon.com). Looking further, I found that Wells Fargo had foreclosed on more homes in the Twins Cities than any other bank since 2008 and has cost the MPLS public schools over $28 million in lost revenue as a result of their practices (Neighborhoods Organizing for Change). The depth of these connections did not surprise me, but the implications for both the “Justice for Trayvon Movement” and Occupy Homes efforts were pretty staggering. We are confronting a system whose tentacles of influence spread wide and deep. These corporate backers and politicians have no intention of handing our democracy back to us without a fight. They have literally bet their fortunes and futures on this system of exploitation, but they have underestimated how much we have to lose if nothing changes. Trayvon’s life was not the first loss in this struggle and Monique’s home may not be the last, but it is time to get informed, get active and begin to make connections between formerly divided struggles. Whether or not you agree with the Occupy movement or believe that Zimmerman acted appropriately, I hope that you can agree with the following statements: Trayvon’s life was precious and taken too soon. Monique and her community both suffer if her home is boarded up and her family is left homeless. Trayvon and Monique’s cases are not isolated experiences, and they are best understood as part of a systemic pattern of injustice in this country. refresh –>