George Zimmerman tried to sell the gun he used to murder Trayvon Martin. The fear of bad publicity prevented him from successfully auctioning the weapon because outrage was loud and swift. But the bigger outrage was ignored. Zimmerman would be in jail if Barack Obama wanted him to be.
Black people, so easily hoodwinked if they fear any risk to Obama’s political fortunes, demanded nothing when Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Martin. It was enough for the gullible to hear Obama say that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon. Neither Zimmerman nor the murderers of Michael Brown, or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice had anything to fear from federal prosecution. The excuse that the bar for prosecution must be high is just that, an excuse.
This same president claimed a right to assassinate Americans without any legislation or case law to back up the assertion. If Obama wanted to prosecute the 21st century lynch mob he could do that too. While black people watched a killer of one of their own brag about and attempt to profit from his deed, the president chose to defend a different group of people altogether.
There is debate and controversy about the use of public restrooms by transgendered people, those who identify with a gender other than the one they manifest physically at birth. The prominence given the issue is out of proportion to the degree of public need. Yet in true American fashion ginned up outrage is reported endlessly over what ought to remain a non-issue. The fire storm is all very foolish but that is why the Department of Justice acted in this case. President Obama loves to wade in on the side of a small segment of white liberal concern instead of helping the people who love them the most.
The federal agency which is so useless in getting justice for black people directed public schools to allow use of restrooms which match students’ gender identity. Meanwhile black people are still killed with impunity if vigilantes like Zimmerman want them dead. There is no attempt to break new ground or even to use precedent in prosecuting killers of black people while other issues are pushed to the forefront of presidential action and media attention.
There is nothing new about people being transgender or using the restrooms they choose. They have been doing so for years. In contrast, black people risk death constantly just because they exist in this society. Driving, walking, riding a bicycle, being in a public space at the wrong moment, or even calling the police for assistance can get them killed. Yet Obama’s FBI doesn’t even maintain a record of killings committed by the police.
Black people unilaterally surrendered their history of fighting for justice ever since Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses in 2008. From the moment it became clear that he could become president there was no amount of contempt or indifference from him that would dissuade millions of people from giving him unquestioned support.
While other groups can count on media attention and public policy to address their needs and rights, black people languish at the bottom of American society, victimized physically, politically and economically and without any redress. White supremacy is the constant in the United States. Groups ranging from the LGBT community to the obese to the disabled can count on sympathy and official action to address their needs. Black people find themselves in the opposite position. There is no amount of injustice which triggers official action on their behalf.
Americans allow themselves to be whipped into a frenzy over any issue, the more trivial the more likely they are to panic. Doing so provides distraction from racism or climate change or war or any issue they either don’t care about or feel they have no agency to impact.
Anyone who has ever used a public bathroom has done so with transgendered people. Let others fight over foolishness. The demand for justice and the battle for self-determination must continue. No one else will do so on our behalf.
Margaret Kimberley writes the Freedom Rider column for Black Agenda Report, where this essay originally appeared.