amplifying our everyday resistance to the prison industrial complex
I’m still brimming with emotion triggered by the court’s acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, but I haven’t given up hope. Oftentimes, the most hopeless moments are those that inspire us to look most deeply within ourselves and our own communities, and we discover, perhaps with surprise, that we’re the ones with the answers we’ve been hoping to find.
I’ve been coming across answers infused with creativity ever since I asked the question of“What will we do?” The thing is, I’m not seeking answers from the criminal justice system. I already know that what I’m searching for can’t be found in courts or prisons or police departments. Mia Murietta wrote an insightful piece entitled “Justice for Trayvon Martin: Why Punishing His Killer Isn’t Enough,” posted on the Ella Baker Center’s blog, Ella’s Voice. As she pointed out, “Our ‘justice’ system doesn’t deliver justice. It enforces laws. It is a legal system that creates and perpetuates the kind of structural racism and devaluing of black lives that lead to killings like Trayvon’s, Oscar Grant’s, and so many other unarmed, young Black men.” The George Zimmerman case doesn’t highlight some previously undiscovered flaw in our legal system. It sheds light on what many of us already knew – that when the criminal justice system operates as it’s designed, it bolsters systems of oppression and continues to harm those who have been degraded for centuries.
People of color know this. Low-income people know this. Queer and trans people know this, as demonstrated in Toshio Meronek’s Advocate article, in which he frames the choices of LGBT people of color facing violent situations as “Be Killed or Be Caged?” For those of us who aren’t white or upper class or straight, it’s no surprise that justice for Trayvon does not exist in a courtroom.
So, how can we assure our minds to believe that Trayvon can rest in peace? How can we comfort one another in these times of fear, knowing that any one of us could be the next one murdered in a violent act ruled “justifiable”? How can we hope for change, when every arrest, lack of arrest, or verdict contributes to our loss of faith?
I still don’t have all the answers, but as people are gathering together to help one another through this difficult time, I’m gathering more clues as to where the answers are for me. And for me, all answers point to creativity. Withcreativity defined as the use of imagination or original ideas, it’s no wonder that this is the source of hope for me right now. Justice for Trayvon doesn’t exist in preexisting systems, so now is the time for our imagination to come to life.
I see examples in the city of Oakland, where I live. Betti Ono Gallery has been offering safe space for folks to come together in reflection and solidarity, to have dialogue about the verdict and the kind of change it calls for. Down the street, Solespace has had Art 4 Justice workshops to give those who are emotionally impacted by the verdict some time and space to express themselves.
And I also see examples from around the world. The #blacklivesmatter hashtag has spread throughout the internet to show that we value black lives, even if the courts don’t. New pieces of art are coming into existence every day, to mourn for Trayvon and to depict alternatives to the systems that allowed Zimmerman to murder him without consequence. Writers are sharing their words of reaction, hurt, and healing – Vanessa Huang included my words in this found poem, “a living monument of love.” Stevie Wonder announced that he refuses to perform in Florida while the state’s Stand Your Ground is in place, and other artists are beginning to follow his lead.
You see my point. When we feel lost without hope, we’ve got artists, musicians, and innovators to create hope for us. On the side of those who want to uphold oppressive systems as they are, they’ve got badges, uniforms, and gavels. That’s a lot of power. It can feel like a losing fight. But then again, another definition of creativity says that creativity is “marked by the ability or power to create, to bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to produce through imaginative skill, to make or bring into existence something new.”
Sounds like a lot of power to me. Where injustice currently exists, we have the power to create something new.
-Maisha Z. Johnson