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The connection between Trayvon Martin and James Powell

LEFT: Demonstrators carrying photographs of Lieutenant Thomas Gilligan, who killed 15-year-old James Powell, march on 125th Street near Seventh Ave. during the Harlem Riots of 1964; RIGHT: Demonstrators carrying photographs of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was killed by George Zimmerman, march down the streets of Sanford, Fla. from the first integrated high school to the Sanford Police Station, March 2012.

LEFT: Demonstrators carrying photographs of Lieutenant Thomas Gilligan, who killed 15-year-old James Powell, march on 125th Street near Seventh Ave. during the Harlem Riots of 1964; RIGHT: Demonstrators carrying photographs of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was killed by George Zimmerman, march down the streets of Sanford, Fla. from the first integrated high school to the Sanford Police Station, March 2012.

By A. Peter Bailey

Trice Edney Newswire

The stalking and killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by adult white male George Zimmerman underlines three concrete realities about much-heralded “post racial” America.

The first reality is that Zimmerman would never have killed a 17-year-old white male teenager in similar circumstances. The clothing worn by Trayvon was not the motivating factor in Zimmerman’s action. It was the young brother’s color. The killer would have reacted the same way if Trayvon had been wearing a $500 suit.

The second reality is that if any Black man, even one who was a police officer, had stalked and killed a 17-year-old white male teenager under the guise of standing his ground or self-defense, the reactions from white authorities and propagandists and killer-supporters such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly would have been swift and decisive. At the very least the killer would have long since been locked up.

The third reality is that if we as Black folks were unified and organized to effectively promote and defend our interests in this country, Zimmerman would have been afraid to stalk and kill Trayvon. Watching and reading about the proceedings brought back chilling memories of the killing of 15-year-old James Powell by New York City police officer, Lt. Thomas Gilligan in July 1964, which led to the Harlem Rebellion of 1964. An editorial I wrote 49 years ago for Volume 1, Number 2 of the official newsletter of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), which was founded by Brother Malcolm X, reads exactly as follows:

The events that began on July 15, 1964, with the killing of 15 year old JAMES POWELL by Lieutenant GILLIGAN and which ended in the demonstrations in several Afro-American communities, have once again exposed the powerlessness of the Afro-American communities.

No one in his wildest dreams can imagine a black policeman shooting and killing a 15 year old white boy without losing his job and possibly his life. Yet a white cop brazenly shot down an Afro-American boy without even being suspended.

This type of killing happened because the Afro-Americans are powerless and therefore are not respected in the white community.  And the reason that the Afro-American communities are powerless is the total DISUNITY in these communities. Developing unity of purpose and method is the most urgent problem facing the Afro-American communities.

Unity must be achieved or there will be no progress. With UNITY will come POWER; with power will come RESPECT, for one of the most basic truths in the relationship between individuals, groups, races or nations is that POWER RESPECTS ONLY MORE POWER. White America is generally united in its desire to keep Black America powerless. Black America will make progress only when they are as united and determined to liberate themselves as the white supremacists are in oppressing them. Unity means black leaders responsible only to the black communities.

Programs in the Afro-American communities will succeed only with unity. With Afro-American UNITY there will be Afro-American POWER, with Afro-American power there will be Afro-American PROGRESS.

I was a young novice journalist when I wrote that editorial. I believed then and believe now that our lack of unity and organization inevitably makes us targets of the Zimmermans and Gilligans in this country. Not surprisingly, Zimmerman was acquitted of killing an unarmed Black teenager as was Gilligan. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

A. Peter Bailey is author of new book, Witnessing Brother Malcolm X, The Master Teacher. He can be reached at apeterb@verizon.net 

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