While the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has elicited nationwide outrage, the response in the Black community has also been introspective for some. At a rally protesting Martin’s death and the lack of prosecution of his alleged killer, speakers called out for action against the injustice but also action against the Black-on-Black violence in Pittsburgh and the disparities faced by many African-Americans.
|TRAYVON MARTIN RALLY—A group of students, concerned citizens and activists gather on the Carnegie Mellon University lawn. (Photo by Rossano P. Stewart)
“Like George Zimmerman, we too often fear those who don’t look, talk, and act like us. We must realize that the fear inside George Zimmerman is deeply rooted in the lack of opportunities faced by certain citizens,” said Ricky Burgess, a CMU graduate student who co-organized the rally. “Together, let us honor Trayvon’s legacy by creating a world where he could have lived.”
The March 26 rally at Carnegie Mellon University fell on the one-month anniversary of Martin’s Feb. 26 death in Sanford, Fla. The teenager was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, 28, who said Martin had been acting suspiciously before he shot him in “self-defense.”
“Somehow our society has been taught to believe minorities can only be associated with suspicion and mistrust. We must demand police and government accountability until we no longer have a reason to do so. Our government has failed us,” said Zoe Samudzi, a University of Pittsburgh student leader. “My older brother could’ve been Trayvon Martin and anyone of your loved ones could’ve been too.”
To date, Zimmerman has not been charged for a crime in the shooting of Martin because of his claim of “self-defense,” and Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which states a person may use deadly force in self-defense without an obligation to retreat first, when there is reasonable belief of a threat. However, many believe Zimmerman’s actions fall under the category of a “hate-crime,” which is used to describe bias-motivated violence—in this case, racism.
“It’s very difficult to prove hate crimes because they believe we live in a post racial society. If he says self-defense, nobody can touch him. That is the law on Florida’s books. The only way he can be prosecuted is if an investigation finds that what he did was unlawful. Florida’s stand your ground law extends to your lawn and vehicle, said Jennifer Saint-Preux, a University of Pittsburgh law student. “So here’s the good news. Your duty is to become an informed citizen.”
The rally combined a mix of college students, concerned citizens and community activists. Among them was Kimberly Ellis, a writer, entertainer and activist who led the crowd in singing “we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”
“It’s not about so called Black on Black crime. We know it exists. That’s why the prisons are filled,” Ellis said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve called on the feds to handle something as simple as murder. We can’t bring Trayvon back, but we can punish the people who think it’s alright to treat us as less than human beings. Laws can be changed but you have to show up.”
Throughout March similar rallies have taken place in cities across the nation. For Pittsburghers, Martin’s death is especially significant as it relates to the January 2010 beating of then 17-year-old Jordan Miles by three undercover police officers.
“I was horribly saddened by the Trayvon Martin tragedy. I looked online and there didn’t seem to be any events in Pittsburgh,” said Brittany Claud, vice president of CMU’s Black Graduate Student Organization. “Pittsburgh has felt racism in its own criminal justice system so we knew this was something that could resonate here.”