United States: Thousands march for justice for Trayvon Martin

March 25, 2012
'Million Hoodie March', March 21, New York.

Thousands of people gathered in Union Square in New York City on March 21 for a "Million Hoodie March" to demand justice for Trayvon Martin, as outrage at his racist murder continues to spread across the country and the world.

Martin was gunned down in the central Florida town of Sanford in late February as he walked to the home of his father's fiance. His killer was George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who was patrolling a gated community when he spotted Martin.

To judge from chilling 911 recordings, Zimmerman decided the African American 17-year-old was "suspicious", began stalking him and then shot him at point-blank range.

Police questioned Zimmerman, then released him because he claimed he killed Martin in "self-defense" ― though Zimmerman outweighed Martin by nearly 100 pounds and was armed with a handgun, while Martin possessed only a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea.

Nearly a month after the crime, Zimmerman has still not been arrested.

Martin's parents led the protest in New York City. Demonstrators wore hoodies (jumpers with a hood) as a show of solidarity ― Martin was wearing one when he was murdered.

They sought to dramatise the statement from the organisers' Facebook page that "a Black person in a hoodie isn't automatically 'suspicious'".

In Orlando, only a few miles from Sanford, hundreds rallied at a protest organised by the Florida Civil Rights Association to demand the state revoke the concealed weapons permit issued to Zimmerman.

Later that night, in Miami's Liberty City neighborhood, more than 200 supporters gathered, carrying bags of Skittles and cans of ice tea. "I wanted to come 'armed and dangerous,'" said teacher Suneeta Williams.

The night before, in Sanford itself, about 1000 people packed a town meeting led by NAACP President Ben Jealous.

Jealous told the crowd, "I stand here as a son, father, uncle who is tired of being scared for our boys. I'm tired of telling our young men how they can't dress, where they can't go and how they can't behave."

There were plans for another protest in Sanford, this one led by Reverand Al Sharpton and his National Action Network. In Atlanta, activists booked several buses to make the nearly eight-hour drive to Sanford ― and sold every seat in advance.

At Union Square, thousands of people turned out for the quickly organised protest. The multiracial crowd wore hoodies, scores of people defiantly held up bags of Skittles.

One Black youth of elementary school age held a sign asking, "Am I next?" A man held a sign that read, "Racism is not a fringe issue," and listed, "George Zimmerman, NYPD, Newt Gingrich, Jan Brewer, and on and on and on..."

As one protester, Aisha Mays, said: “Things like this happen all the time because Black men are targets. You see the worst of this here, but you also see it everywhere ― in the schools, the workplaces.

“I'm glad that people are here. We have to continue these speak-outs and rallies, we have to continue to talk about these issues and bring them out in the open, we have to break down these racist barriers. We have to take action.”

Speakers at the protest highlighted the racist double standard of police doing a background check and drug/alcohol test on Martin, but not on Zimmerman, the shooter.

A lawyer for Martin's family pointed out that without the support from activists and the hundreds of thousands who signed petitions demanding justice for Martin, the case would never have gained the prominence it has.

The crowd began chanting "Justice for Trayvon," as Martin's parents made their way to the front to speak.

Martin's father, Tracy Martin, said, "If Trayvon was alive, he'd be on these steps with you rallying for justice. Trayvon Martin did matter.

“We're aren't going to stop until we get justice for Trayvon!"

His mother Sybrina Fulton thanked the crowd for their support. Choking back tears, she said, "Our son did not commit any crimes … Our son is your son. Justice for Trayvon!"

Chanting "We are Trayvon Martin!" the crowd of thousands poured into the streets to march for justice.

This echoed the chant of "We are Troy Davis!" that rang out in Union Square six months before as about 1000 people marched in the "Day of Outrage" protest the day after the state of Georgia executed Troy Anthony Davis, an innocent African American man.

Initially, the march took over two full lanes of traffic. Police tried to corral marchers back onto the sidewalk.

They succeeded for a brief time, but were overwhelmed as the crowd took the streets again.

There is growing anger in New York against police abuse and violence. There is a growing movement against the racist "stop and frisk" policy of the NYPD, whose 2000 or so victims each day are overwhelmingly Black or Latino.

Activists in the Bronx have organised demonstrations in recent months this against the police murder of Ramarley Graham, an unarmed Black teenager killed in his own home, and the beating of another Black teen, Jateik Reed.

The spirited demonstration for Martin is a further sign that a new movement for racial justice is emerging in New York, as it is in other cities.

As protester Lupe Rodriguez said: "People are fed up about hearing these stories of people of colour being beat down and shot down by cops. There have been too many of them brought to light in the last couple of months, and Trayvon is the tipping point for these communities."

The many signs and chants that drew connections between the murder of Martin and instances of police brutality and racism made it clear that people don't view this as an isolated incident but as a broader system of racism and injustice.

Another marcher, Armani Williams, said: “It makes me really angry to be a young Black male who knows that in 2012, I can be shot and killed, and the police don't do anything...

“Black people are sick of how police terrorise us.”

[Abridged from Socialist Worker.]

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