Last night my wife Trini and I watched the new film release "Fruitvale Station" soon after we heard about the George Zimmerman verdict. The film was based on how a transit police officer killed 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was unarmed, at the Fruitvale train station in Oakland on his way home from New Year's festivities. He was caught in circumstances of life, but for too many poor, black and urban youth these often end in death.
Oscar Grant's killer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and given two years; he was let go in 11 months. The people next to me were in tears. Not long ago, William Masters, a white jogger in L.A., was let go and freed – not even charged – having killed one Chicano youth and wounding another after he confronted them for supposedly tagging under a bridge. One of the youth was shot in the back. Yet police felt Masters was in danger and shot in self-defense. In my youth, sheriff’s deputies killed four of my friends, unarmed and brown. When I moved back to L.A. from Chicago in 2000 – after confronting years of Chicago police murders and even tortures of black and brown victims – a recent report of L.A. County sheriff department shootings – 52 in one year – proved they were all people of color, unarmed, a few mentally ill.
Here's the other side of the coin: I spoke at the largest juvenile lockup in North America last month for a graduation of 30 GED students (the place has between 800 and 1,000 prisoners – 90 percent or more black and brown). The facility is five minutes from my house. Seven of the graduates talked at the podium, saying great words, talking about big dreams. More than a few are going to adult prisons for 25 years to life. Some of those cases didn't involve any actual involvement in murder, but often just being around with friends when someone was killed. The injustices in the face of the current justice system are so palpable and patterned.
Trayvon Martin deserved his day in court, his story told, his life given value. Anyway you look at it, it was Zimmerman’s actions that eventually lead to Martin’s death (and a culture where black youth are feared and profiled). Still the patterns continue. We can't let up. Justice for Trayvon Martin must not end here. The circumstances of poverty, racism and historical imbalances must now be on trial. The anti-poor and anti-working class criminal justice system must be on trial. The exploitative capitalist political and economic system must now be on trial. Most Americans are for fairness – the majority has no idea what their government has done. It's time to change the conversation. No more of our youth, of any color, should be profiled, sought and then killed the way Trayvon was killed. The way Oscar was killed. The way those Chicano youth under the bridge were shot. Or my four homies. Nobody ever again.