By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
As trial for killer of Black teen proceeds in Florida, organizers demanding justice and an end to racially-based targeting of youth
(FinalCall.com) – While the fight for justice in the Trayvon Martin case goes forward in the legal system, another fight is waging in the streets.
Activists are challenging the authorities conduct in the teen’s case and handling of his memory, while simultaneously demonstrating their outrage over the criminalization of Black youth.
Even with the trial of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer, beginning at Final Call press time on June 10, in Sanford, Fla., most vocal against attempts to denigrate his image were Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, his hurting, yet focused parents.
“The defense attorney wants to put in the potential jury’s mind that Trayvon was this bad kid that was on heavy drugs and he was all off into guns … He had just turned 17. If he was that bad of a kid, why wasn’t he ever in any trouble with the law?” Mr. Martin asked.
His son had experienced a school suspension, but that didn’t make him a bad child, he said.
As for media references to his son and guns, Mr. Martin said he didn’t know that Trayvon. No parent in America can tell what their child does or cite every daily activity but one can only hope lessons instilled in children outweigh temptation, he said.
“This the most difficult time in our lives but through prayer, through the support of family and friends, we are trying to strengthen ourselves with each day,” Sybrina Fulton said, regarding the toll the ordeal is taking on her family.
“We know who Trayvon Martin was and so the attempts to try to portray him or demonize him or make him look negative, we’re still staying focused on the trial. We’re staying focused on the positive. We’re staying focused on the person, the child, the teenager that we knew,” Ms. Fulton said.
Family attorney Benjamin Crump told The Final Call the trial judge has already barred Mr. Zimmerman’s attorneys from presenting photos of Trayvon Martin with a gun and drugs in court.
“It’s the same thing we predicted they were going to try. They killed him. Now they’re going to try to assassinate his character,” Atty. Crump said. He likened the tactic to blaming the rape victim to justify the criminal’s heinous act.
“They’re playing on the stereotypes and biases of the people … to try to taint the jury pool. They want to try and make everybody think that young, Black men are criminals or they hold a typical mentality that made George Zimmerman get out of that car and chase Trayvon Martin and his lawyers now are using that same stereo-mentality to try to justify the death,” Atty. Crump charged.
Any day is tough living without his son, but coping becomes especially hard for Tracy Martin as Father’s Day nears.
“I always looked for the lil’ gift that he gave me. Whether it was the same gift every year, but I looked forward to that gift. He would go and buy me a pack of t-shirts or a pack of socks or some slacks, house shoes, whatever. But I knew that I had that gift coming … I’m not going to get that gift this year,” Mr. Martin said.
Too often, Black and Brown children are being killed and communities don’t speak up, he continued. Once asked what he’d do if a Black person was charged with killing his son, Mr. Martin replied he’d fight the same way.
“If you value your child’s life, you want to see your child’s killer brought to justice no matter if he’s Black, White, Brown, because we feel we were robbed. We feel that we were wronged so our fight from the onset was we need justice. We need equal justice,” Mr. Martin told The Final Call.
As their family endures the trial of their son’s killer, the parents are encouraged by renewed national activism sweeping the country. If people don’t speak up about the senseless killings of their children, society will assume it’s okay to depreciate the value of their lives, said Mr. Martin.
“By being thrust into this situation, you hate that it’s your child. But at the end of the day, you say to yourself, maybe this was something that had to happen and maybe we were the right people to pick because we were so outspoken about his death that we were standing there from the beginning saying, ‘No! You killed my son and something has to be done about this,’ ” Mr. Martin insisted.
Activists with the National Stop Mass Incarceration Network kicked off “National Hoodie Day” under the slogans, “We Are All Trayvon,” “The Whole Damn System Is Guilty,” and, under the Twitter hash tags “#HoodiesUp” and “#Justice4Trayvon” the same day the Zimmerman trial began.
Actions around Trayvon’s death and National Hoodie Day are linked crimes by police and self-styled vigilantes in different states, organizers said.
“We’re working both around the trial of George Zimmerman to get justice for Trayvon to make sure that as they try to let Zimmerman off the hook, we’re not gonna’ let that go down like that,” said D’andre Teeter, an organizer with the National Stop Mass Incarceration Network.
One of the major questions around the Trayvon Martin trial is who is calling for help on 911 tapes. This was the debate at Final Call presstime over the tapes and conclusions reached by a prosecution expert. The voice was identified as Trayvon’s but defense lawyers said the technology used to reach that conclusion was unreliable.
But, said Atty. Crump, Mr. Zimmerman opened and closed the question about the haunting calls for help captured as someone called 911 to report an altercation.
“Remember. Even George Zimmerman said, when they asked him about the 911 tape, ‘That doesn’t even sound like me,’ ” Atty. Crump told The Final Call.
The neighborhood watch captain’s actions were every parent’s worst nightmare, he continued.
“Packing up a 9mm gun, on prescription medication, going around the neighborhood passing judgment on who should or who shouldn’t be in the neighborhood. God help you if he comes up to your teenager and he don’t answer the questions the right way. You might find yourself in the same situation that Trayvon’s parents are in,” Atty. Crump said.
He feels the trial is a real litmus test of how far America has come in matters of equal justice since the days of 14-year-old Emmett Till, murdered in Money, Miss., in 1955 and civil rights leader Medgar Evers, who was assasinated in 1963 in Jackson, Miss. And, the attorney feels renewed activism is a critical part of the important case and holding people accountable.
National Hoodie Day actions in the Bay Area will include a call for people around the world to flood the streets to demonstrate, and flood the internet with pictures, videos, and statements supporting justice for Trayvon Martin and condemning the justice system, according to organizer D’andre Teeter.
“It’s a simple fact that, first of all, the murder of Trayvon Martin would not have even become a blip on the radar of the conscious of people in this country if it had not been for the courageousness and perseverance of Trayvon’s parents,” Mr. Teeter said.
They didn’t let up on a tragedy that happens all too often in America, it took hold on social media and drew national outrage, he added.
“This is not just your typical murder by police, which happens all too often in this country, but a wannabe cop, who was going around patrolling a neighborhood, looking at a young man with a hoodie and saying he’s up to no good and blowing him away,” Mr. Teeter told The Final Call.
It was the outpouring of tens of thousands of people in the streets that forced Mr. Zimmerman’s arrest and that same vigilance is needed to ensure the system, which is currently painting an aggressive Trayvon Martin and a poor, helpless George Zimmerman in the media, fails in its attempt to see the shooter go free, Mr. Teeter continued.
“If Zimmerman walks it’s like painting a big target on the backs of Black and Brown youth throughout this country. It is open season for anyone, not just cops but any racist who wants to shoot you down with complete immunity and we’re not going to let this happen,” he vowed.
Bay Area National Hoodie Day actions at the Fruitvale Bart Plaza in Oakland and Oscar Grant Plaza, and also called attention to California inmates’ third hunger strike against alleged inhumane treatment in prison.
The national network also sent a delegation to attend the trial in Sanford, Fla., which included Cephus Johnson and his wife, Beatrice, the uncle and aunt of Oscar Grant, III. Mr. Grant was killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer in 2009. Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison.
Hoodie Day demonstrators gathered at Niagara Square in Buffalo, N.Y., for a march and rally, while protestors gathered at St. Nick’s Park and Union Square South Plaza in New York City. In Dallas, Texas, and in Chicago, protests were held in Daley Plaza.
“Basically what we see here with police murders and mass incarcerations is the same kind of racial profiling that led to the wannabe cop Zimmerman stopping Trayvon Martin … We have a situation where millions and millions of Blacks and Latinos have been targeted for racial profiling or whole pipelines that lead to prison and police murders and so forth,” said Clyde Young, a former prisoner and an organizer with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.
“What we’re setting out to do is change the climate in this country. These are intolerable crimes that are being committed against people … We’re setting out to build a movement for revolution and taking on these outrages as part of building that movement for revolution,” he said.