Joy KMT, Bekezela Mguni and LaTasha Mayes from “New Voices Pittsburgh” sit in front of other protestors on Centre Ave. in the Hill District as Mguni shows her frustration yelling how many more times, how many more Black lives. (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)
A rally for Trayvon Martin at Freedom Corner in the Hill District on July 14 drew police presence when two women from New Voices Pittsburgh took to the street to draw more attention to their cause.
“People are just driving by,” said Joy KMT before taking her place in the street. “Maybe if we stand in the street they’ll pay attention.”
And they did. More and more women took a place in the street until the event’s organizers asked the rest of the crowd to join them. Soon after, several police cars emerged.
Protesters with hoodies stood together with their fists saying they are Travon Martin. (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)
Everyone stood with their backs turned to say any of them could be Travon Martin. (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)
The rally of more than 200 was organized as a result of the recent verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, in which his alleged assailant George Zimmerman was found not guilty. Martin was shot by 29-year-old Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in Florida after an altercation ensued as the 17-year-old boy was returning home.
What started as a rally for Martin and his family quickly turned into a rally about the injustices Black people face in America. The speakers said the verdict in the case demonstrated the nation’s poor opinion of Black people and reinforces a system of White oppression.
“We live in a society that believes we have no worth. I’m tired of feeling worthless. Black people have no rights,” said Bekezela Mguni, one of the first to enter the street. “We are simply asking for people in our community to stop and take a look at the intense violence we experience as Black people.
After the police arrived on the scene they gave the protestor two warnings to vacate the street. However, Pittsburgh Police Commander Rashall Brackney later met with the group of protestors and assured them no one would be arrested.
Protesters take to the street (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)
Prior to Brackney’s appearance many in the crowd moved out of the street for fear they would be taken to jail, but a group of approximately 20 remained. The others stood by to offer their support and collected money in case the protestors needed money for bail.
“This is important and it’s important that the crowd supports them,” said Carl Redwood from the Hill District Consensus Group. “I cried last night just like everyone else when I heard the verdict and I think these sisters are doing us a service by taking a stand.”
Among the people sitting in the street were sisters Brya and Shaquel Adams from Manchester who originally tried getting the attention of drivers passing by with signs they and others in their group had made.
“I have five young boys so I couldn’t imagine what Trayvon’s parents are going through,” said Shaquel Adams, whose 16-year-old son was recently stopped and frisked by police officers. “I’m afraid for my kids. I’m sick of them being profiled.”
“I’m sick of the repetition. This keeps happening,” said Brya Adams. “I’m sick of not knowing if my nephews are safe, my nieces are safe, my cousins are safe. I’m sick of being pulled over just for being Black.”
Rev. Glenn Grayson, pastor of nearby Wesley Center AME Zion Church, who had attended the rally early, returned when he saw what was taking place on the street. He worried the protestors would be arrested and worked with Commander Brackney and others to diffuse the situation.
“There are a lot of people in this struggle. It never ends for me,” Grayson said. “I appreciate what they’re doing, but we can’t fix it in a sit in. We have to fight smart.”
Serving as liason with the police throughout the protest was Brandi Fisher with the Alliance for Police Accountability who spoke with the police officers when they arrived. She also called the city’s Public Safety Director Michael Huss to explain the situation and maintain peace.
“I support the young women. I was concerned for their safety,” Fisher said “I think they made a great statement. I’m just happy I was able to be here to help.”
When the crowd began to dissipate, seven of the women in the street formed a circle to talk about their next steps. Commander Brackney remained on the scene with two police vehicles blocking off the street.
Bus drives around protesters in the street (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)