Trayvon Martin, Rodney King, Amadou Diallo: The Violent Evolution of American Racial Injustice


When Rodney King was brutalized in Los Angeles in 1992, it unleashed the suppressed anger and pain that many people in communities of color knew all too well. People raged in the streets for days. Their indignation was not just at the King incident as an isolated case of a few bad policemen, it was based on years of subjugation by a racist police system, and a society that leaves communities in poverty and decay, bubbling beneath the surface waiting to rupture.

It's these striking examples of injustice and police violence - Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham - that break through the desensitizing effects of the fact that black men are killed by police just about every day. The overwhelming majority of victims get little news coverage, and only a handful succeed in mobilizing boots on the concrete to demand justice for the perpetrators and to decry a broken system. It's these examples that allow us, if we're scrupulous, to tie into broader systemic critiques. When Trayvon Martin was killed in February 2012, the image of a smiling young teenager quickly spread into the collective consciousness and once again tapped a raw nerve. While public outcry made George Zimmerman a scapegoat for how black people in this country can be valued so little that when a young man is shot, his killer is not even charged with murder we must not let the individual spotlight hinder us from making connections to the bigger picture. We have not overcome the scars of racism in America. We still suffer from the echoes of slavery, when human beings literally had price tags.

A deeper look at the roots of the issues in communities of color is bringing to light that heavy policing is not only ineffective at combating crime and violence, but is actually a major contributing cause of continued violence. Using more and more force to "fight crime" has been proven to succeed in little more than escalating anger and disgust with the violent armies occupying neighborhoods from the Bronx, to Miami, to Los Angeles.  

When will we learn that violence only sows more violence?  In a post-9/11 world, fear and force are used as tools to control, securitize, and repress – but just because the militarized police state is mobilizing doesn’t mean that the rage isn’t building up once again – and when it’s unleashed, people will know exactly where to direct their anger.