City of Pittsburgh Police Commander Rashall Brackney and Rev. Glenn Grayson speak to protestors about where the community goes from here. (Courier Photos/J.L. Martello)
In Los Angeles, they shut down a freeway, in New York they took over Times Square, and in Pittsburgh, they claimed a block in the Hill District. On July 14, in cities across the country, those outraged by the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial made a statement.
All sexes, races and ages sat in the street on Centre Avenue to show outrage over the not guilty verdict.
For Black Pittsburghers Freedom Corner in the Hill District has long been the site of rallies and marches for civil rights and justice. On Sunday evening, a group of more than 200 gathered there in memory of Martin, a 17-year-old boy from Florida, who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman.
“When they said he wasn’t guilty, it didn’t shock me,” said 17-year-old Anastasia Carrington. “It just shows that America hasn’t changed at all.”
A jury of women, six White and one Latino, found Zimmerman not guilty of murder or manslaughter and acquitted him of all charges. Throughout the trial, Zimmerman claimed he was acting in self defense when he shot Martin, an action legal under Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
“I’m glad so many individuals are waking up to the oppression we face,” said Lhogic, a Dormont resident and owner of a recording company. “This case, a lot of people say it’s not about racism, but that all this is about, the White oppressive court system.”
“We need to fight back against so called ‘stand your ground’ laws because it’s clear, not everyone has the right to stand their ground,” said Rick Adams, convener of the Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly.
Longtime activist Paradise Gray read a moving poem to the crowd. The poem was framed as a “knock, knock” joke and included details of the case and the trial.
“Who is alive? Who the hell is dead?” Gray read to a stunned silent crowd. “Who was the adult? Who was the child? Who’s in denial? Who’s on trial? Who? Who cares about the life of a Black child or a man?”
Protesters in the street “stand their ground”
Although the gathering at Freedom Corner was mostly peaceful in nature, several speakers encouraged the Black community to arm themselves. They also said African-Americans should know how to disarm someone.
“Ask yourself if doing everything within the system is going to bring about the liberation you desire,” said Emmanuel Taylor with the National Black United Front.
“This is systematic oppression so we have to design systematic liberation.”
Others asked those in the crowd to get involved with community organizations.
“When you walk away from here, Google who’s doing something in Pittsburgh and volunteer,” said Richard Carrington to the crowd in an effort to get more people involved in activist organizations. “Can we do anything about what happened? That’s not our goal. We can do something about what’s next.”
The next step is to join a fighting organization,” said Sala Udin. “You’re at Freedom Corner. You’re standing on sacred ground. If you look down you’ll see the names of fallen heroes.”
The crowd was a mix of several races and despite a few negative comments directed at the White race, the group seemed unified under a common goal.
Regardless of race, they said American has created a system of oppression against African-Americans.
“We need to be conscious about what’s happening. We need to be conscious Blacks,” said Ayanna Nguzi. “But as I look through this crowd, we also have conscious Whites and conscious Latinos.”
As a continuation of Pittsburgh’s response was a press conference and rally at noon on Wednesday July 17, 2013 at the Allegheny County Courthouse.
Nationally, demonstrations are planned for 100 cities this Saturday, July 20, to protest George Zimmerman’s acquittal and to urge the Justice Department to investigate whether Martin’s civil rights were violated.