Kevin Powell on Trayvon Martin and Racism in America

Picture 15.png
As anger grows nationwide over the shooting of Trayvon Martin, many in New York have continued to mobilize and speak out against the unarmed teen's death.

Kevin Powell, an activist, Guardian* columnist, and one-time Congressional candidate, is one of several advocates in the city leading the call for George Zimmerman's arrest and a repeal of the stand your ground laws enacted in 20 states.

Powell took the time to chat with Runnin' Scared about Trayvon Martin, and what the tragedy means for young, black men in America and the general state of civil rights the U.S.

Runnin' Scared: You organized a rally for Trayvon Martin last night, at Brooklyn's House of the Lord Church. What was the mood at the event?

Kevin Powell: It was so packed that we actually had to shut the doors. We filled up the main room and the balcony and the extra room. There was such an outpouring of support and grief. We wanted to have a space for the community. We also talked about practical things -- from continuing to sign the various petitions out there from MoveOn and ColorofChange, who co-hosted the event, to boycotting Florida -- the tourist attractions in Orlando. We also shot a video for Jasiri X, a rap artist out of Pittsburg. It's an incredible song that's been all over the internet called a song for Trayvon. They're going to send it as soon as today to their 7-million plus listserve.

Runnin' Scared: What were some of the goals?

Powell: It really served various purposes. One of them, as I said in my speech, is that we have to see the connection between Trayvon Martin and the right-wing attack on the bodies of women and their anti-immigrant policies. It's all connected, this lack of respect for peoples' lives. We wanted to bring people together because we wanted to see how these issues are interconnnected.

Runnin' Scared: Why do you think these issues are linked?

Powell: When you see the right wing creating a climate for a reckless disregard for peoples' lives -- for coming after women and having debates over women's bodies and not having women's bodies, there's something wrong with that. When you see immigrants who can't get access to basic services, when you hear public candidates say that certain communities would rather collect food stamps than work, or when you see voter ID laws, or when you see what's happening with the stand your ground law, it's all the work of a very conservative movement in this country that has been in existence since the 1980s.

My challenge, my call for people, is that these aren't seperate instances. They're similar social causes and we have to stand together. We have to no matter what our race or culture -- if you really believe in the value of all human life for all people, we can't see these issues as isolated.

Runnin' Scared: What does Trayvon Martin's death mean for young, black men?

Powell: It's a terrible feeling to know that the moment that you go outside, you could be the victim of some sort of violence. You might not return home -- that's a terrible feeling. What you saw last night at the rally -- there was a very diverse group of people and there were a lot of young men wearing hoodies in tribute to Trayvon Martin, and they were listening very intently because they wanted to know: 'What do we do?'

People think that Barack Obama is president that we have a post-racial society, but that's not true, and that's why you see this fear in this society. That's why you see black men under stress. We just don't feel like our lives our valued, and you see this across the board with middle class black males and lower class black males in inner city areas.

Runnin' Scared: There's been a lot of talk about Trayvon's clothing, with Geraldo Rivera even saying that his hoodie was to blame. What do you make of this?

Powell: We need to stress that he wasn't killed because of his hoodie. He was killed because of the color of his skin. I think we need to stress that there's a tendency to say that if you if weren't wearing XYZ, that something wouldn't happen to you, and that's offensive. As much as our society has evoled in the last fifty years we're still very much rooted in racism and sexism, that's clear to me.

Runnin' Scared: What are your next steps?

Powell: First and foremost, we are continuing to speak very loudly locally and nationally about this issue of racial profiling in America. It's just out of control. Sean bell, Oscar Grant, and now this with Trayvon Martin. I've not seen this kind of outpouring for any case. I believe that the Trayvon Martin situation is what Emmett Till represented in the 1950s. It's so egregious, it's really galvanized people.

Runnin' Scared: What do you hope to be the outcome of this situation?

Powell: People say: 'What do you want?' We want George Zimmerman arrested and brought to justice. We want to make sure that all the states have this ridiculous stand your ground law have them repealed. And we want to have civil and humane conversations about race and racism.

We've got to have a national dialogue on racism, and I don't know if President Obama is able to do that because his situation is so tenuous. Otherwise, this thing is just going to explode and we all know what happened when it exploded in the 1960s -- it led to riots all across the country.

Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.

(*Full disclosure: I have written op-eds for the Guardian, but Powell and I haven't worked together directly and had not spoken before this interview.)

My Voice Nation Help
36 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
S.Dee
S.Dee

It is always easier to blame the victim than it is the perpetrator.  I see this in many areas.  Kids get things stolen at school.  The school calls the parent and says well they were not suppose to have it out in the open.  While the kid who stole whatever electronic gets off.  The women who is raped is the blame for it due to what she wore or how she was acting at the time.  Many women won't even come forward with the fear she will be blamed.  Where this comes from Mr. Powell is hard to detect on a sociologically, but it is hard to sift out of the thought process of the collective.  The Hoodie is a symbol of urban poor.  Rich people don't get it how most poor people can live so they assume most steal for a living.  While most thefts and most sizable thefts are done by white collar or systematically interweaves into societies (The job market, college acceptance, low job wage, blacklisting for prime housing etc.).  Anyone who does not see it as a racial issue just hasn't live as a Black person in America.  I have and I will tell you it is seldom dull and usually challenging.  But Black people do what it is Black people want to do. It is not a total barrier to success.  Just a lot of bumps in the road that as a White person you know little about.  Not to say White people don't have bumps.  White people don't get jobs because it is filled.  White people don't live in communities because they can't afford to.  White people have better credit because it doesn't take them as long to get another job.  White people compete under the umbrella of who is the best or the most talented.  Black and other racial groups get those bumps but they also get it just for their color or religion or race.  Women get it for all of the above and for being women.  Now we have made great strives in this country towards racial equality and we do have our first Black president.  But in the hearts and minds of many racial differences are still prevalent.  The unusual thing to me in this case is that George Zimmerman doesn't look white.  He looks more Spanish.  His name is more Jewish.  I don't think he is Jewish.  I am not sure what race he is.  It was the first thing that struck me as odd. This case is just odd.  All the circumstances with this case from the start has been odd.

robthom
robthom

I dont even need to read this article.

I can already guess that he thinks that all whites are racist, blacks are never racist, and that white people owe him something.

Pretty close?

Vikkid57
Vikkid57

How do you know that Zimmerman could tell the "color of his skin".  It was night time and they wern't that close-just curious?

Johnnylboone
Johnnylboone

YEAH I AGREE THIS IS ONE OF THE MAIN REASONS WHY THIS COUNTRY IS STILL LAGGING IN RACE RELATIONS BECAUSE SELFISHNESS ALWAYS CLOUDS THE FACTS RATHER THAN JUSTICE COUNTERING THE ACTS WHAT GOOD IS THE LAW IF IT ALLOWS A CIVILIAN TO PURSUE & INITIATE A CONFRONTATION & NOT BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE DECISION HE MADE TO FOLLOW THIS KID WHEN THE ACTUAL POLICE TOLD HIM TO RETREAT,AT THAT MOMENT HE TOOK THE LAW IN HIS OWN HANDS IS THAT LAWFUL??? OR BECAUSE HE WAS BLACK THE KID APPEARED TO BE A THREAT OR EASY PREY FOR A NEIGHBORHOOD WATCHMAN WITH A GUN & HIDDEN RACIAL ISSUES LIKE OTHERS WHO PRETEND NOT TO BE RACIST BUT THE HATE IN THERE HEART ALWAYS SHOWS UP.

robthom
robthom

 "...WHEN THE ACTUAL POLICE TOLD HIM TO RETREAT..."

Go figure that the ignorant shmuck who types in all caps is also a blatant liar!

Johnnylboone
Johnnylboone

WHAT DOES KEVIN NOT PAYING YOUR BILLS HAVE TO DO WITH THE FACTS & YEAH ZIMMERMAN IS INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY BUT WHAT'S INNOCENT ABOUT PURSUING AN INDIVIDUAL & YOU'RE NOT THE ACTUAL LAW & YOU'RE NOT GOING ON MUCH TO PURSUE THE INDIVIDUAL OTHER THAN A MERE ETHNIC DIFFERENCE SO YOU TAKE THE LAW IN YOUR OWN HANDS OBVIOUSLY WHEN THE ACTUAL OFFICER TELLS YOU TO BACK DOWN YET YOU STILL PURSUE THEM & TO ADD INSULT TO INJURY YOU'RE HEARD ON THE RADIO USING RACIAL EPITHETS TO DESCRIBE THE PURSUEE MEANS THIS WAS HIS PRIMARY PURPOSE FOR THE PURSUIT NOW THE ONLY PEOPLE THAT WILL RATIONALIZE THIS ARE PEOPLE WHO THINK LIKE ZIMMERMAN & THIS IS PART OF PROBLEM NOT A SOLUTION SO IF YOUR FREEDOM OF SPEECH IS TWISTED WHERE

enjoygdjournalism
enjoygdjournalism

Looks like the jury has been picked.  Good luck to you all!

TRUTH 101 !
TRUTH 101 !

Well Johnnylboone it is 2012! But the same old, sameold is still going down. When was the last time that you have been in a prison? I do lecturers in prisons. And while the % of white to blacks in our  society is what it is ,the prison population is very disproportional in particular to the skin colors. Now I've studied all the acquisitions of knowledge and find it to be a very flawed investigation of the real facts of our societies truths.  Your right there is a problem when it comes not only to minorities getting a job, but also the minorities getting a fair and equal wage. In my many years I've meet many wonderful souls of every race, color, and creed. But the facts are the facts. And in even America all men,women, and children are not permitted to be equal in our country! By some ones assumptions. In my many years I've seen a good number of white men go to prison just because that they crossed the wrong low person in high places. But they were poor. Just as the blacks.

Johnnylboone
Johnnylboone

I THINK IT'S A SHAME HERE WE ARE IN 2012 & STILL DEALING WITH BASICALLY THE SAME ISSUES AS USUAL & IT'S REALLY SAD BECAUSE PEOPLE PRETEND TO NOT BE RACIST WHEN EYES ARE ON THEM BUT THE HATE. IN THERE HEARTS SHOWS ITS UGLY HEAD WHEN COMMON INTEREST OF RIGHT VERSES WRONG SOMEHOW TAKES A BACK SEAT TO INDIFFERENCE & UNEQUALLED SUBJECT MATTER. -GOD- HELP US ALL WHEN WILL. THE NONSENSE END??? LOOKS LIKE GETTING A JOB OR JUSTICE FOR A MINORITY IS STILL A FEAT IN THIS COUNTRY & WHEN DEALING WITH THE FACTS AS FAR AS AN INDIVIDUAL WHO HAS EXPERIENCED THESE SAME RACIST ISSUES OLD &WHO ALSO KNOWS THAT ALL WHITE PEOPLE ARE NOT RACIST & SELFISH JUST LIKE ALL BLACK PEOPLE ARE NOT LAZY & UNCARING

TRUTH 101 !
TRUTH 101 !

You know I lived in South Florida for 46 years. And I always said that South Florida and for that matter all of Florida was the south with palm trees. You catch my drift.

TRUTH 101 !
TRUTH 101 !

It's 4:34 AM. And I FEELN THAT THIS STORY NEEDS TO BE TOLD. A good friend told me this true story, a little while ago. In eastern Ohio, a number of years ago. In northern Jefferson county, there was a murder of a young black youth by two white youth. The story goes that this young black youth worked at a job. And these two white guys invited the black youth that they worked with to go hunting. He was really happy about the fact that he thought that he had made friends, and was going hunting. Well he told every one about that he was going hunting with these two guys. And the day came. And he never came home at the end of that day from the hunting outing with these two guys. When he was found, he was found strung up between two trees by ropes. It was said that our sheriff was really taken back when he saw what he saw. Our sheriff is a really good law-enforcement officer. A good man. The young black youth had been tortured formany hours. And then winched up between the two trees and he was field-dressed. For those of you who are not knowledgeable of that hunting terminology. The young mans stomach was cut open and his insides were pulled out while he was hanging by his arms, tied up in between the two trees. He was alive when the two white guys did this to him. And that's the GOD'S truth! What kind of sick people do this kind of things to an other humanbeing? The young man was my friends grandson.Are we a civil people? Or what?

TRUTH 101 !
TRUTH 101 !

Well Anon, it sounds like you where right there. And it sounds just like you a true blue superior racist. Your so bright ,you got it all so well thought-out , like I said you where right there! You saw it all go down. WOW! I'm a 72 year old white man that knows whats wrong with our county. We have to many people like you! Just because some one is different thier tha bad guy. You make me sick to be white. I see the our society for what it is. And we are going to pay dearly for the likes of people like you. You really think that little guy got the best of that jerk. Who had a gun. Let me tell you that George Zimmerman's life aint worth a plug nickle. Hecan not come out in the light of day for the rest of his life! Ihope he had fun in what he did. He had no right to be judge, jury, and executioner. He put the bounty on his own head by his actions. The Buddhist say that for every action, and for every inaction, that there are consequences.  Or do you think that they are some how responsible for something wrong, that you don't like. All because that thier different also. Like I said I'm white I hear what white people say every day about other people, because that thier different. My grandmother taught me to never to hate or fear any one or thing. Trust in GOD. And only GOD! Not dimwitted fools. 

Anon
Anon

This article and the entire event is utter bullshit - Zimmerman was protecting himself from a brutal attack.  The State and the Media allow this nonsense to go on when Blacks murder Whites, Asians, and Hispanics wholesale and nothing is said. Unfortunately, Liberal Politicians and their propaganda arm, the American Media, will ignore the inconvenient truth, that Martin was a violent criminal. He got what he deserved. His color has nothing to do with it.

Karen
Karen

I agree with you Anon. And for the record I am Black. Zimmermanwent after Trayvon with a gun in his holster. He thought it was a fair fight.Because by his account they were going to just shoot it out. Remember hethought Trayvon had a gun too. But instead he got brutally beat by a 17 yearold with had fists as his weapon. Zimmerman perhaps may not be prejudice but thesanford pd. Whew!  Zimmerman went intohis coat pocket for his cell phone. Martin saw that 9mm and freaked out! And for the record Zimmerman is not free.

Winghunter
Winghunter

Chicago: 10 dead, at least 39 others wounded in weekend violence  http://www.suntimes.com/news/c...

Yet racial extortionists focus on Zimmerman....                         

Winghunter
Winghunter

Remind you of the Duke LaCrosse players anyone?? Search these up:

* Police: Zimmerman says Trayvon decked him with one blow then began hammering his head

* Witness: Martin attacked Zimmerman "The guy on the bottom who had a red sweater on was yelling to me: 'help, help…and I told him to stop and I was calling 911," he said. Trayvon Martin was in a hoodie; Zimmerman was in red.” * Does the media have credibility on the Trayvon Martin story? Have these facts been reported yet? You decide

Winghunter
Winghunter

Police: Zimmerman says Trayvon decked him with one blow then began hammering his head http://articles.orlandosentine...

Witness: Martin attacked Zimmerman http://www.eurweb.com/2012/03/... "The guy on the bottom who had a red sweater on was yelling to me: 'help, help…and I told him to stop and I was calling 911," he said. Trayvon Martin was in a hoodie; Zimmerman was in red.” Does the media have credibility on the Trayvon Martin story? Have these facts been reported yet? You decide http://trayvon.tk/

SandraD.
SandraD.

I think it would have come across far more effective if Kevin would have stuck to one topic and defended that one topic - that being what happened to Trayvon Martin.  Kevin sounds like he is running for some office.  Tying to locate where is audience is.  You can always talk about people needing to eat.  That will always be a factor in life.  Or people wanting to be on the dole rather than work (if they can find a job) Or the left wing bringing down the fabric of society, I suspect Kevin wouldn't have a career if the Left Wing stopped doing whatever it is he is accusing of doing.  No matter what we say about immigrants they aren't going to stop coming to this country and working.  What I did like when he got to the point was the repeal of the stop you because you look funny law.  Why it maybe the cause of what really happened to Trayvon Martin.

loulai
loulai

This situation brings to mind the 1974 movie, Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson. In the movie architect Paul Kersey's wife and daughter are assaulted outside their apartment then dragged inside and, raped. His wife is actually murdered. Kersey then takes to the streets, armed, in NYC, and shoots criminals he encounters who are attempting to commit crimes. Kersey rejects the position that ordinary people must retreat to locked dwellings/cells leaving criminals to rule the cities. That is basically the situation that now exists in american cities.Meanwhile the President and his Attorney General make no comment concerning the bounty offered by the New Black Panther Party.Are they aiding and abetting the criminals?

Winghunter
Winghunter

Duke LaCrosse players anyone??

Police: Zimmerman says Trayvon decked him with one blow then began hammering his head http://articles.orlandosentine...

Witness: Martin attacked Zimmerman http://www.eurweb.com/2012/03/... guy on the bottom who had a red sweater on was yelling to me: 'help, help…and I told him to stop and I was calling 911," he said. Trayvon Martin was in a hoodie; Zimmerman was in red.” Does the media have credibility on the Trayvon Martin story? Have these facts been reported yet? You decide http://trayvon.tk/

Guest
Guest

I concur with Kevin Powell, let there be a "national dialogue on racism". Despite how covert is has become, racism is very prevalent in this nation and continues to affect African Americans.   Most definitely the "stand your ground" law has to be repealed. Thirty-one states in the continental U.S.A. have the stand your ground law on the books.

Kevin don't pay my bills
Kevin don't pay my bills

Looks like Kevin is trying to make a living as a professional Race Baiter, a la Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.  While the young man's death was tragic, I think Mr. Zimmerman deserves a fair trial before he is condemned as guilty.  Nitwits like Kevin are not interested in the truth.  They only want to continue to stoke anger, rather than find answers.   This is big business - it made Jesse Jackson enough money to attempt to buy his son a Senate seat and it bought Sharpton some decent suits (though I do miss the velour tract suits).   And people are stupid enough to believe clowns like this.    Kevin and the rest of the Race Baiters are just angry that this is no longer the lucrative business it used to be.   Before you call for a boycott of Florida, ask JJ how that Nike boycott went.   Because when the endorsement income of the  professional black athletes was threatened, we all know what side of the boycott they were on.What ever happened to Noah Robinson, Jesse's half brother?  Oh wait, he's in jail for attempting to hire terrorists to kill two people........the terrorists being a Chicago gang with ties to Lybia, and, wait for it, ties to both Jackson brothers.  

Guest
Guest

How is Kevin Powell a race baiter? And what does Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have to do with this article? You did a lot of reaching... The reporter/journalist asked KP questions and he answered them.

Simply put the Trayvon Martin murder is about RACE. Attacking KP for stating the obvious (that Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin) is ridiculous. Even you can admit Zimmerman profiled Trayvon Martin.

loulai
loulai

The Martin case is about a neighborhood watch participant who sees someone standing in the rain checking out nearby houses.i.e. possibly casing homes in an area recently plagued by burglaries. He follows the individual and winds up with a bloody nose and a gash on the back of his head. The man being folowed is shot. That's all we know. about the incident. We also know that the incident has nothing to do with the mythical war on women or the debate about illegal immigration. We also know that the President and his Attorney General make no comment on th New Black Panther Party bounty on George Zimmerman.Why are they aiding would be kidnappers and murderers by their silence?

Karen
Karen

Not sure. But it could be because the New Black Panthers came out after the fact. UMM. Our President is smart remember that.

Anthony Smith
Anthony Smith

Again what do you plan to do to help make things better in this country? Or do you do as you always have done..Nothing...be a opinionated bystander. What amazes me is that I see the younger generations (no color involved) are actually doing something about our future. See things are going to change and there is nothing you can do about it. 

Winghunter
Winghunter

Bigots teach their kids everyone is against them and they won't be able to get anywhere so don't bother trying. Then the following generations pollute the minds of the next in turn.

Frank Marshal Davis, Jeremiah Wright, Louis Farrakhan, etc, ad nauseum...

Anthony Smith
Anthony Smith

Ok I wasnt going to comment, but your comment above is why this country is the way it is. I am an highly honored veteran who has served in more wars, conflicts, and campaigns during my time serving in the Navy. In other countries around the world we are being laughed at because ignorant comments such as yours. I agree Mr. Zimmerman does need a fair trial, but then you go off on a tangent talking about Jesse, Kevin, and all Al Sharpton. A 17 year old kid was murdered because he looked like he didn't belong in that neighborhood. I have friends that live in that community and they are outraged that this happened.  I didn't see you mention Mr. Zimmerman calling the kid a coon (911 tapes 2:10 mark). Right is right, wrong is wrong. None of the people you mentioned represent me, but I am sure Fox News represents you right? (see I am making stupid assumption). See by 2050 the demographics will be different in this country and people like you who still hold on to that "We are superior" will be nulled and void. Learn more about the world, pick up a few book on other cultures, and turn off the idiot box.. 

Kevin don't pay my bills
Kevin don't pay my bills

Two words:  Due Process

Two more words:  Tawanna Brawley

Where was the outrage when a 6 year old black girl was killed while sitting in her living room last week in Chicago?  She was killed by a stray bullet shot by a gangbanger.  Where were Jesse and Al then?  Where was the outrage?  Seems to me, there is no public outrage when it is black on black crime.    My point to Mr. Powell was that he is nothing more than a Race Hustler, trying to make a dime on other people's misery.   I agree that a complete invesitagtion be done, but where is the outrage that the New Black Panthers have put a bounty on Mr. Zimmerman?

Unless we allow for due process, justice will never be served.  If the investigation finds he is guilty, then the full weight of the law should be used on Mr. Zimmerman.   Until there is a complete investigation, we will not know what happened.  What about the eye witness who said that Mr. Martin was on top of Mr. Zimmerman, beating him up?  I notice you did not mention that in your response.   I did not hear any kind of names that you are suggesting ("coon") being attributed to Mr. Zimmerman. 

BTW, how on earth do you know what "people like me" are?   We are white,  black, hispanic (which Mr. Zimmerman is apparently), asian, etc..     Black people are not allowed to have independent opinions that differ from these Race Hustlers, otherwise they are condemned and called Uncle Toms.  

Do not be fooled by the Kevin Powells, the Jesse Jacksons, the Al Sharptons.   They profit on continuing to exaggerate, if not outright lie (a la Tawanna Brawley) on race issues.   They are nothing but extortionists

Gurn Blanston
Gurn Blanston

I grew up "white on the border" in El Paso, Texas.  I was called every name in the book by Hispanics and Blacks.  I have rough hands and knuckles from all the fights I got in just to keep my ass in one piece.  Hate crimes are committed by minorities all the time -- especially when they are in packs because there's safety in numbers.  But you'll never hear about them -- especially when they are committed against Anglos.  How about this one:  http://www.nydailynews.com/new...

In po' little Tray's case, it was mano a mano, just like I like it -- and it was between a black and an Hispanic.  The facts will come out in court and Zimmerman will be exonnerated.  Just because he called that guy a coon does not make it a hate crime.  I was called everything you could imagine and if I had a nickel for every time someone threw a racist comment at me, I'd be a rich man.  But did you hear me whine?  No.  Because I'm one tough white boy and I can handle myself.  I don't need a pack of friends behind me or a gun to shut someone up.  I just handle my business.  I don't say anything.  I just drop 'em like a limp dishrag and move on.  THAT is how you handle ignorant people.  And the only thing racists and pack animals understand is violence.  You HAVE to fight fire with fire.  (Betcha the moderator doesn't print this). 

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...