Over one hundred protestors rally at the County Courthouse (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)
by Rebecca Nuttall
Courier Staff Writer
Days after the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial, a group of over 100 protestors descended on the Pittsburgh City County Building to present a list of demands to elected officials.
Their demands were drafted to put an end to tragedies like what happened to Martin, a 17-year-old who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman.
Bekezela Mguni reads off their demands for the politicians of Pittsburgh. (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)
“We’re not just talking about Trayvon as an isolated incident. We’re talking about this in a national context,” said Bekezela Mguni of New Voices Pittsburgh, who helped organize the rally.
“When the verdict came down, people all over felt an intense amount of guilt and rage. (Zimmerman) got out of his car to follow and shoot Trayvon. The trial became about why Trayvon deserved to die, and that’s what Black people experience everyday.”
For hours, the group stood and sat outside of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s office, their chants and songs reverberating down the hallway, as four police officers stood guard. Although the mayor’s assistant Jim Sheppard said he would take their demands to the mayor, the group said they wanted to speak with the mayor in person.
Mayor’s sepecial assistant Jim Sheppard (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)
“Knock, knock. Who’s there? Pittsburgh for Trayvon. Pittsburgh defending Black bodies. Pittsburgh standing our ground,” they chanted in unison.
But the mayor never came. At one point, the protestors were told two representatives would be allowed to enter the office to deliver their demands to the mayor personally. However, when they entered, Public Safety Director Michael Huss greeted them instead.
“It’s important for us to be acknowledged. Too often Black concerns are pushed to the side,” said Joy KMT, one of the group’s leaders. “It’s a travesty that an elected official can choose to ignore an issue that plagues the city. The mayor’s refusal to acknowledge our presence speaks volumes to the ethical and moral fiber of our elected representation.”
The rally on July 17 began at the County Courthouse, where newly formed group Pittsburgh For Trayvon shared their demands. One demand was for Pittsburgh to renounce its title as the “Most Livable City” until conditions improve for African-Americans.
Ngani Ndindie hands City council president Darlene Harris the demands from the protesters and Harris says she will present them to council. (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)
At the City County Building, the group had hoped to personally deliver their demands to Ravenstahl, City Council President Darlene Harris, and democratic nominee for mayor Councilman Bill Peduto. Harris and Peduto, along with Councilman Bruce Kraus agreed to draft a resolution, taking the group’s demands into consideration. The council members were told they had three business days to respond.
“I was sort of like you on Saturday night. I felt sad. I had a pit in my stomach,” Peduto said. “If it’s galvanized you to try to make a difference in the city of Pittsburgh, I’ll work with you. I promise to work with you to make Pittsburgh an example.”
The action at the City County Building was a result of an impromptu sit –in at Freedom Corner in the Hill District on July 14.
“For most Black people in Pittsburgh, this verdict was injustice as usual. Out of that, we had the opportunity to envision what we want and we had the opportunity to come up with a list of demands,” said Joy KMT
Their demands target the legal violence towards and brutalization of Black people; the economic violence inflicted on Black communities; the violence directed towards the physical wellness of Black people; the institutional violence perpetuated against Black people; and the emotional and physical violence inflicted on Black communities.
Some of the protestors stayed through the night and others returned to the site the following morning.
Follow Rebecca Nuttall on Twitter @PghReporter
AP UPDATE: JULY 19
Trayvon Martin protesters visit Pa. mayor’s home
PITTSBURGH (AP) – A group protesting neighborhood watch guard George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin have slept outside the Pittsburgh mayor’s office and posted signs at his home asking the city to investigate its treatment of black residents.
Mayor Ravenstahl has issued a statement saying he has “heard and read” the protesters'” concerns, but says they don’t have the right to come onto private property and “frighten people’s young children” – an apparent reference to his 4-year-old son, Cooper.
The group Pittsburgh For Trayvon has also issued 14 demands to improve city conditions for Blacks to city council.
Police have stepped up patrols around Ravenstahl’s home, but public safety director Michael Huss says the protesters outside the mayor’s office have been peaceful.
Director of Public Safety Michael Huss speaks with LaTasha Mayes, Bekezela Mguni and Brandi Fisher saying you can stay here as long as you want just leave a walkway so that people can get in and out of the office. (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)