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Hoodie Politics: Trayvon Martin and Racist Violence in Post-Racial America

Posted on Apr 4, 2012
LaDawna's pics (CC-BY)

By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

(Page 2)

An echo of the conditions that are responsible for Trayvon Martin’s senseless killing can be heard in the words of politicians who embrace a culture of cruelty, suggesting that children who have predetermined illnesses not be given access to health care. It is evident in laws that sentence young people to adult prisons; it is clear in economic policies that drain income from working families and their children in order to line the pockets of the extremely and unproductively wealthy and private hedge fund managers. It is also visible in a carceral state that wages war on the poor rather than on poverty, defunds public schools so that they can be privatized, and demonizes young people while teaching them that punishing them is more important than educating them. A culture of compassion has been replaced by a culture of fear that radically forstalls future possibility. The manufactured national hysteria over private security has become a disease, massaged by endless moral panics about poor people, immigrants, minorities and dangerous youth, and all the while making us less safe and ever more vulnerable to violence. A consumer and hyper-militarized society that defines all relationships according to market values and enshrine a “survival-of-the-fittest ethic” leaves behind a string of abandoned visions, dreams, hopes and belief in the future. Symptoms of ethical, political and economic impoverishment are all around us.

When traces of the social contract and our responsibility to present and future generations were still alive in the United States (prior to the late 1970s), many Americans believed it took a social state and a strong community to raise a child. That is, they believed in social safety nets that offered social protections, decent health care, child care and other important social rights that affirmed the centrality of, and shared experience of, the common good, if not democracy itself. What many Americans now accept is a mode of “failed sociality” that has turned the principles of democracy against itself, deforming both the language of freedom and justice that made equality a viable idea and political goal. Community as a metaphor for the common good and social contract is dead in America. Community is now gated and policed, and responsibility is reduced to a private and privately contracted affair shaped by a set of values that breathe a kind of mad savagery into a new form of economic Darwinism. In this market-driven, hypermasculine and militarized society, shared modes of sociality that provide collective protections and expand the rights of the social contract are now viewed with disdain. In fact, for some pundits such as Rick Santorum, they are derided as a pathology, a religiously inflected notion of evil and sin that poisons the body politic.

Young people now find themselves in a world in which sociality has been reduced to an economic battle ground over materialistic needs waged by an army of nomadic individuals, just as more and more people find their behavior pathologized, criminalized and subject to state violence. Youth now find themselves in a social order in which bonds of trust have been replaced by bonds of fear. As Zygmunt Bauman puts it: “Trust is replaced by universal suspicion. All bonds are assumed to be untrustworthy, unreliable, trap-and-ambush-like - until proven otherwise.”[5] All forms of social solidarity are now abandoned to a free-market logic that has individualized responsibility and reduced civic values to the obligations of consumer-driven self interest advanced against all other interests. How else to explain the fate of generations of young people, especially poor white, brown and black youth, who find themselves in a society in which 500,000 young people are incarcerated and 2.5 million are arrested annually, a society in which, by the age of 23, “almost a third of Americans have been arrested for a crime.”[6] What kind of society do we live in that allows 1.6 million kids to be homeless at any given time in a year? What social order allows massive inequalities in wealth and income to produce a politically and morally dysfunctional social order in which, “45 percent of U.S. residents live in households that struggle to make ends meet, [which] breaks down to 39 percent of all adults and 55 percent of all children”?[7] What is clear is that we now live in a society that invests more in what Etienne Balibar calls “the death zones of humanity” than in life itself, at least when it comes to poor youth.[8]


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By heterochromatic, April 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm Link to this comment

my statement was about ...that’s the law. that’s what ‘s on the books and just
because I don’t agree with it doesn’t mean that my views should outweigh the
wishes of the majority….as their view is not indefensible.

I agree that we should work for better, but we have to take care not to arrogantly
over-value our own opinions.

Report this

By MollyJ, April 5, 2012 at 6:43 pm Link to this comment

Accepting that imperfections exist does not mean you don’t work to improve it, in either realm.

So if you aren’t a proponent of the death penalty, what was that statement, “troy Davis was executed because 12 people were convinced that he
murdered somebody” about?

And I disagree with your statement of the infrequency of errors in the death penalty.  No one can say they actually _know_ a number but there is good evidence that it is far from infrequent.  Let’s just say that if a doc wanted to test me with a test that had a false-positive rate like the death penalty, I’d be leary. Check out this web site:

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By heterochromatic, April 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm Link to this comment

Molly——I’m also not a proponent of the death penalty, but it’s not that often
that an innocent person is executed.

Tens of thousands of people die due to hospital-induced infections for every
innocent person executed by the justice system.

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By MollyJ, April 5, 2012 at 6:25 pm Link to this comment

Hetero, just as I am willing to accept the imperfections of the health care system (of which I am a professional member) I am willing to accept the imperfections of the trial system.  But there is nothing about the trial system that requires a death penalty.  And as I’ve said, the risk of wrongfully executing the wrong person is too real and too frequent and therefore, the death penalty is simply not necessary.

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By heterochromatic, April 5, 2012 at 6:14 pm Link to this comment

Molly—- how man y rich people or people who hire experienced trial attorneys
were indicted for murdering police officers in the last dozen years?

the problem with rich people getting more lenient sentences is real, but you’re
wrong to think that justice is all about whether you can hired your own defense

Report this

By heterochromatic, April 5, 2012 at 5:51 pm Link to this comment

Molly——you have a better alternative to jury trials for criminal offenses?

If not, then you might want to remember that trials always leave room for some
doubt., but it’s not required that there be NO doubt left.

it was reasonable that the verdict was arrived at as it was and also remember that
appelate courts arer required to honor the verdict unless the trial was legally
defective to a material degree.

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By MollyJ, April 5, 2012 at 5:39 pm Link to this comment

hetero, Troy Davis was someone whose jury trial left plenty of room for doubt and yes the system said he had no more recourse left and he was killed by the state.

But Davis’s case illustrates exactly the problem with the death penalty.  Blacks are way over-represented on death row.  You can be flip about that but it should make you uncomfortable.  The kangaroo court justice that over incarcerates and executes blacks may someday be brought to bear on you and yours.  A system that cheapens life grows ever less discrimminant.

People with money and non-public defenders are rather under-represented on death row, too.  Do you seriously think that getting the death penalty should be a function of what kind of defense you can _afford_?

I actually looked at the residents of death row in my state.  It was uncomfortable.  I’d like to think the courts in my state “get it right” but I know that the odds are that they do not always.

The state should not be in the business of executing it’s people just simply because we cannot really eliminate a margin of error and the human costs of error are unacceptably high.

Give it some thought.

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By MollyJ, April 5, 2012 at 5:31 pm Link to this comment

Costa, Zimmerman followed Trayvon.  He called 911 and said he was following him and the 911 operator told him there was no need to do that.  By your read, Trayvon should have turned around and, and…thrown his Arizona Ice tea at him.  Oh, yeah,but Zimmerman had the gun.  Check and checkmate.  Dead teen.

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By heterochromatic, April 5, 2012 at 11:50 am Link to this comment

Roger—- troy Davis was executed because 12 people were convinced that he
murdered somebody….that has shit to do with Martin.

Report this

By costa piperakis, April 5, 2012 at 10:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is ten o’clock in the evening.dark shadows looming.and black figure comes to you in a hooded sweat have a weapon available.are you prone to use it?I think i might think twice,when banks put up notices about wooded sweat shirts ,and “ethnic personel.I would just be a “mite paranoid"and the police have not even finished the investigation,yet Oprah has the defendent hung up to dry.doe the term innocent untill proven guilty come to mind?

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By ciarrai, April 5, 2012 at 6:58 am Link to this comment

There is a great deal of inequity on all fronts. Absent, however, from this and all liberal comment on the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case is any mere reference to interracial crime, specifically, black on white crime. Why the white knuckle hesitancy to even mention this element of the issue of the racial divide? What’s the worst that could happen? Al Sharpton might leave MSNBC? Really, why no article, essays, news, pieces, segments on the very real issue of black on white crime?

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By Roger Lafontaine, April 5, 2012 at 6:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why was Troy Davis executed ? And why was Trayvon Martin ‘executed’? Is there a connection? Their own innocence was their crime. Neither of them committed a crime and yet they were both executed. One by the Law,  the other by a substitute of the Law.

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By heterochromatic, April 4, 2012 at 5:51 pm Link to this comment

holy platitudinous pontificating, batman!  but that was
more hot air than is produced on Hot Air.

sounds nice but is as nourishing as a bowl of steam

Report this

By jaabirlx, April 4, 2012 at 4:29 pm Link to this comment

We need a comprehensive word for the syndrome that Mr. Giroux taxonomizes: I use the word “Securitarian” to echo the word “totalitarian” . . . for Securitarians, political liberties are dependent on Security—and of course, there is never any limit to the violence that must be done in the name of being safe, nor are there any legal limits that have to be obeyed, because all the armed vigilantes are as much a part of making us “Secure” as anyone in a uniform. And of course anyone in a uniform is even less culpable.

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By MollyJ, April 4, 2012 at 3:11 pm Link to this comment

Henry Giroux is a national treasure.  When I read his stuff, I always feel like I’ve been to a class taught by a learned man.

However, I had actually already happened onto some of his ideas.

But he is among a growing group of people that speaks out effectively against the militarization of life and the active plan to incarcerate everyone—but particularly minorities—who do not conform to a narrow idea of appropriate behavior.

I think that Giroux has spoken to the lack of real and important work and jobs that do not await even some of the bright college bound kids but also the people who, 40 or more years ago, would have been decently paid blue collar workers. 

Thanks again Henry Giroux.

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By Arouete, April 4, 2012 at 12:40 pm Link to this comment

Before pontificating nincompoops and ignoramuses do yet more violence to Trayvon Martin by trashing the very law that is his own best defense they should go READ it before making complete fools of themselves. It’s easy enough for a 17-year-old to understand.

We have all read much about this horrid incident but almost none of it contributes to the most important questions as to this law and law enforcement. The following at Open Salon may be helpful to sort out what everyone seems to be missing: This law is Trayvon Martin’s defense and George Zimmerman’s indictment and and at least one of the Martin family attorneys agrees!  Do yourself a big favor and see:

“Martin v. Zimmerman: Everything You ‘Know’About SYG is Wrong” at

and for a more detailed expose see “Trayvon Martin: Defense a Pig-Sty Beneath a Racist Facade?” at

For everyone’s information in an “IMPORTANT UPDATE” comment to those links provided it is stated,

“I just got an email from the attorney for Travon’s parents. It might not be appropriate to mention her name—you can sleuth that out for yourself. I passed her the links for the two posts I wrote and she just wrote back,

“Thank you. Your blog is very well written and thought out…I agree with your analysis.”

“So pass it around please. This is the analysis their legal counsel want’s to get out. Please help deliver the massage.”

People who go around pontificating on the law should at least have the integrity to do read the dammed thing and apply it’s plain language to the facts as we know them. No one who has taken even five Minutes to read this simply-worded statute could possibly concluded it’s a defense for Zimmerman for the only person who can assert this defense is Trayvon Martin.

Anyone who trashes this law trashes Trayvon’s best defense and does him one more ignorant violence. There can be no excuse for this cavalcade of ignorance.

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By gerard, April 4, 2012 at 12:32 pm Link to this comment

The saddest but truest essay on the suicide of the American experiment I have yet read. What to do?
  1. Don’t be afraid to know the truth.
  2. Free Bradley Manning and Julian Assange.
  3. Dismantle the culture of fear and violence.
  4. Reinstate and honor democratic laws, processes
    and values.
  5. Be kind.

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