Considering the role of race in this encounter suggests the continuities and differences with the Jim Crow era. If mass incarceration is the New Jim Crow in Michelle Alexander’s formulation (See, Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, it is because it is a legal structure that is also a racial order but not because it carries the same beliefs or mentalities about race on an either conscious or unconscious basis. Zimmerman is unlikely to turn out to be some postmodern equivalent of Mississippi's Milam brothers who tortured and murdered 14 year old Emmet Till, an African American teen visiting his Misissippi family from Chicago in 1955 (the incident helped galvanize northern public opinion for federal enforcement of civil rights laws in the South in the year after Brown v. Board of Education was decided, read the Wikipedia article here).An older version, also as manifested in Sanford FL, from Dave Zirin, Jackie Robinson, Trayvon Martin and the Sad History of Sanford, Florida The Nation 03/23/2012:
Zimmerman, whoever he turns out to be, is more likely to reflect a new kind of law and order subject constituted by programs like Neighborhood Watch, and other cultural expressions of the war on crime, than the traditional racialized vigilante or racist neighborhood lynch mob member of the sort that afflicted Mississippi or even parts of Brooklyn and Queens as late as the 1980s. Till's banter with a married white woman in 1955 affronted the racialized Jim Crow honor code of the murderers. Zimmerman's lethal viiolence seems to have been activated by different set of nonetheless racialized codes which Trayvon traduced, one in which African American young men wearing hoodies are presumed to be cruising for criminal opportunities and should be prepared to perform their innocence visibly at all times (and not be distracted talking to their girlfriends). Zimmerman drove his SUV around his gated community, gun and cell phone at his side not to enforce a racial order in which miscegenation is the gravest moral breach (indeed he was the product of a mixed racial marriage), but to enforce a civil order anchored in fear of crime in which fitting a racialized risk profile is a breach that can cost a young man his life.
... Sanford, Florida, does have its own history and it includes a collective moment of intolerance and bigotry that almost derailed the man Martin Luther King Jr. called "a freedom rider before freedom rides," Jackie Robinson.As Arlo Guthrie once put it, "Some things don't change, you know. Some things do."
Before Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color line in 1947 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he spent a season desegregating the minor leagues, playing for the Dodgers AAA team, the Montreal Royals. The Royals held Spring Training in Sanford.
Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, after so many years, thought he knew Florida. He believed that Robinson’s presence could go over if efforts were taken to ruffle as few feathers as possible. Robinson, on Rickey’s instructions, didn't try to stay at any Sanford hotels. He and his wife didn't eat out at any restaurants not deemed "Negro restaurants." He didn't even dress in the same locker room as his teammates.
Rickey thought that would be enough. He thought he knew Florida. But he didn't know Sanford.
As Jean West, a school teacher in Florida, wrote, "Branch Rickey had miscalculated the degree to which Jim Crow was entrenched in Sanford. As an example, an inanimate object, a second-hand piano, purchased in 1924 from the courthouse for use in a segregated school in nearby Oviedo, was filed as a 'Negro Piano' in the school board's record; living human beings challenging segregation certainly would not be tolerated."
It wasn't. The mayor of Sanford was confronted by what the author describes as a "large group of white residents" who "demanded that Robinson...be run out of town."
The Mayor caved. On March 5th, the Royals were informed that they would not be permitted to take the field as an integrated group. Rickey was concerned for Robinson’s life and sent him to stay in Daytona Beach. His daughter, Sharon Robinson, remembered, "The Robinsons were run out of Sanford, Florida, with threats of violence."
Tags: confederate heritage month 2014, us south, white racism