Jacksonville, FL – CNN wants to make out the killing of 17-year-old Jordan Davis and the first-degree murder trial of his killer, Michael Dunn, to be an irrational dispute over loud music. How else do you explain the headline, “Loud music' murder trial begins” from Feb. 5? CNN is hardly alone, as reporters and pundits try to downplay comparisons to the George Zimmerman trial and make the Dunn trial about anything except racism.
But racism and the system of national oppression in the U.S. South sits at the heart of the murder of Jordan Davis, just as it does the murder of Trayvon Martin and the state persecution of Marissa Alexander. Although police brutality and vigilante violence against African Americans occurs across the country – for example the shooting of 16-year-old Kimani Gray by police in Brooklyn last year - Florida and other states across the Deep South continue to be ground zero in the struggle against racist discrimination.
Consider Dunn, a white thug who fired eight shots at a vehicle full of high school students in Jacksonville, Florida, killing Davis and injuring three others. Dunn said he felt threatened by the loud music coming from Davis' vehicle and fabricated a story for the police that he had seen one of the passengers pointing a gun at him. His claims were all lies. Police found no weapons, guns or otherwise, in Davis' vehicle, which never left the Gate gas station where the shooting took place. Dunn, on the other hand, drove to a bed and breakfast suite in Saint Augustine with his girlfriend and casually ordered a pizza, just hours after slaying the African American youth.
Unlike Zimmerman, Dunn was arrested after calling the police a day later. From prison, Dunn wrote letters to family members exposing the racist attitudes that led to Davis' murder. In one letter, he said of African Americans, “The more time I am exposed to these people, the more prejudiced against them I become.” Other letters from Dunn ranged from absurd claims that he was the victim of racial discrimination to an open call for genocide, in which he said to his girlfriend, “This may sound a bit radical, but if more people would arm themselves and kill these f---ing idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.”
Dunn should be charged with hate crimes in addition to first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. However, state attorney Angela Corey, who is prosecuting Dunn despite her botched prosecution of Zimmerman last year, and the other representatives of the criminal injustice system want to downplay the real trial taking place in the minds of oppressed nationalities around the U.S. - the trial of the injustice system itself.
Opening statements in Dunn's trial began on Feb. 6 and a verdict is expected by Feb. 14. Even if Dunn is found guilty, though, the system that creates and empowers racist vigilantes like Dunn and Zimmerman to brutally gun down African Americans will continue victimizing more people.
It's no surprise that the historic home of slavery, the plantation system, lynchings, the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow segregation remains the epicenter of violence against African Americans, like Davis, in 2014. More than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation legally ended slavery and 50 years since the Civil Rights Act's passage, African Americans continue to suffer from racist killings, police brutality, higher unemployment rates, job discrimination, less access to quality health care and underfunded public schools, among other things. In the South though, these inequalities are greater and sharper than the rest of the country.
North Florida, including Jacksonville, sits on the edges of the Black Belt, which is the agricultural region historically farmed by Black slave labor and sharecroppers. Within the Black Belt exists a distinct nation made up of African Americans, formed on the basis of a common history, territory, economic life and culture. This nation, forged out of chattel slavery and the betrayal of radical reconstruction by the federal government, is oppressed by the imperialist ruling class of the U.S. for its labor, resources, and land. Racism and white supremacy are two particular forms that the national oppression of African Americans take within the U.S., which are enforced through state and local laws, mass incarceration, police brutality and vigilante violence.
The Black Belt South has been home to the key battles of the modern African American freedom struggle. From the Birmingham, Alabama Bus Boycott, to the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-in at the Woolworths' lunch counter, to the Mississippi Freedom Summer, the Black Belt South saw many battles by African Americans against Jim Crow segregation and for equality. These battles are part of the larger struggle for self-determination by an oppressed nation. This right to self-determination includes the right to a separate nation.
As part of the Black Belt, Jacksonville's African American community experiences the national oppression felt across the U.S. South. In the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights activists fought to desegregate lunch counters and restaurants in the city in the face of tremendous repression. The most infamous example of racist backlash happened on August 27, 1960 – called “Ax Handle Saturday” - when a group of about 200 Klansmen and white racists attacked civil rights activists in downtown Jacksonville's Hemming Plaza with ax handles.
Just a year earlier, the racist United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) pressured the city's school board to change the name of Valhalla High School to Nathan Bedford Forrest High School, named after the infamous slave trader and first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The UDC's publicity stunt was in response to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which desegregated all-white schools throughout the country. Last year, activists in the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition led a successful campaign to change the name of Forrest High School, despite much protest from wealthy racist whites in the city.
The murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, along with the incarceration of Marissa Alexander, speak to the continued presence of laws in the Black Belt that specifically oppress the African American nation. Florida's state government, much like other state governments around the U.S. South, is controlled by the Republican Party, which generally represents the far-right sector of the capitalist class. This sector profits from exploiting agricultural workers and other workers in labor-intensive industries, meaning they materially profit from the brutal racism and national oppression of African Americans. Laws like Stand Your Ground, while nominally defending the right of self-defense, are applied in Florida to empower white racist vigilantes like Dunn and Zimmerman, while denying the same rights to African American women like Alexander who defend themselves from domestic abuse. The hypocrisy isn't simply misguided lawyers and judges. Instead, it is a fundamental part of oppressing African Americans in the Black Belt on the basis of nationality.
Like modern Afghanistan or Iraq under U.S. occupation, the U.S. imperialist ruling class writes laws and enforces its policies on the African American nation for the purpose of making itself richer. National oppression and racism benefit the imperialists, who favor busting unions, cutting food stamps and keeping wages low. These attacks affect the entire working class, but the brunt of their offensive in the South is directed at African Americans. In Jacksonville, for instance, over 66,000 black workers are in poverty (27% of the black population), which is both higher than the state average for black workers in Florida and more than 1.5 times the total number of white workers in poverty in Jacksonville alone.
The imperialist class uses the murders of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin to enforce terror in the Black Belt, whether the terror is committed by police or vigilantes. White southern landowners used the Ku Klux Klan similarly during Reconstruction, when African Americans gained unprecedented rights after the Civil War to own land, vote, hold political office and organize.
The struggle for justice for Jordan Davis is part of a larger freedom struggle for African Americans against racism and national oppression. Florida's system of laws that are designed to oppress black workers and youth, like mandatory minimum sentencing and harsh drug laws, are not unrelated to the wealthy elite in the US. Instead, they are an essential part of American capitalism designed to keep an entire nation within the borders of the U.S. in poverty and fearful of violence and prisons.
When activists around the country take to the streets to demand justice for Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander, they are striking a blow to this system of racism and national oppression. The protests, marches, rallies and building occupations strike at the heart of imperialism by exposing the racist system for what it is and empowering the masses of African Americans to defend their communities and struggle for self-determination. Demanding a guilty verdict for Dunn is a crucial battle in this larger struggle.