Already At 4:00 p.m., crowds of people gathered at Union Square Park in mid-Manhattan in New York City on Sunday, July 14, 2013. A hot humid Sunday, the air thick with diesel fumes, rage and sorrow.
By midday at least, the word had gone out for people to gather at the park at 6:00 p.m.
On the no.1 train as I headed south from Columbia University at about 3:30 p.m., after attending an informational setting on the personal, societal, economic and ecological threat of the proposed TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), a young man called out in the mercifully chilled subway car, "Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. I'm a community organizer for the South Bronx. We're calling everyone to gather at Union Square Park at 6:00 p.m. to mark the verdict in the Trayvon Martin trial." When the train stopped at the next station, he dashed to the car ahead, presumably to make the same announcement.
Immediately, in spite of the oppressive heat, I changed my plans and did the necessary one/two hop to it to get on the no. 4 train south to Union Square.
At the park, a crowd was gradually increasing, a few drummers, a prayer circle with people holding hands, facing inwards with eyes closed seemingly rising above the constant roar of traffic; in the center chalk drawings expressing deep grief. A long, long joined sheet of papers for people to express their feelings in words or image spread out on the bricks. I greeted the Green Party candidate for mayor, Dr. Gronowicz, with the bump fist salute. None of the other mayoral candidates seemed to be present then.
A heavy NYPD presence rimmed the clutches of people, here and there. Black suited cops after black suited cops in the awful heat. Forty? Fifty? News station vans, with antennae to beam to the world varied opinions of the verdict in the trial, also edged close to the sweltering bodies, creating a heavier division than usual between the people in the park and the steady stream of people shopping at the Whole Foods directly opposite.
Union Square Park had become a refuge of sorts for Occupiers after the NYPD had chased them from Zuccotti Park, but the Occupiers could not and had not set up an encampment there. Too many park benches, paved parkways, shrubbed spots of land, too few bare spots of either stone, concrete or land. But still, a refuge with a proud history.
Trayvon had not been able to find such a refuge.
So many young black men in the U.S. are unable to find a refuge. Without a commons, a sense of the commons, such as Union Square admirably struggles to be, a place where all people are free, free to roam, free to be, the concept or actuality of a refuge, of freedom, does not and cannot exist. In a world where people with the funds increasingly seek "safety" in gated communities, this case, like others, proves that even there, as long as we have cultures and laws that privilege the ownership and use of guns, in combination with the perpetuation of the privileging of aggression whether personally or by a state, no one is free, no one is safe.
Surveillance of all kinds has long been the status quo, as black Americans well know that they are watched and policed by their neighbors, by employers, by just about anyone, told so many times that they don't belong "here" or there," that they must move along, away.
Zimmerman was watching, policing a young black male. That's acceptable in the eyes of too many. Until that mind-set changes, we will likely see more dead young black males added to the already painfully long list. Until we all, no matter the shade of skin or type of dress (does one have to wear a pink rather than black hoodie to be safe?), become objects of surveillance at risk of being murdered simply for being (objected to?), then nothing will change. Until we are all in the same boat, nothing will change.
But wait, we already are in that position.
Does Zimmerman realize that his country, the country that created the "stand your ground" law and the legal system that found him not guilty, has morphed him into being as much a target of the kind of policing death as he put Trayvon? Do those who support the verdict realize that? Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin what he does not want done to himself and it seems he thinks he's immune like the supporters of the "stand your ground" laws think they are immune.