Community Leaders Discuss Impact Of Trayvon Martin Case
As of Thursday, April 19, 2012
Although two months have passed since the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, UW students and leaders still had much to discuss regarding the meaning of the case.
The Ethnic Cultural Center and Black Student Union (BSU) held a community forum yesterday regarding the shooting of Trayvon Martin. On Feb. 26, Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed African-American male, was running a private errand to the home of his father’s girlfriend when George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic American, confronted Martin. The confrontation ended with Zimmerman shooting Martin in the chest.
The forum was mediated by Christopher Wells, an educational leadership and policy studies graduate student and graduate staff assistant for Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program (GO-MAP), and three panelists spoke at the beginning of the forum.
Dustin Washington, community-justice program director at American Friends Service Committee and community organizer at The People’s Institute Northwest, spoke on the meaning of the shooting. He said systemic and institutional racism still plagues the United States.
“Blackness has historically been a threat. What happened to Trayvon Martin is nothing new in our country,” Washington said. “If we wanted to do anything to honor Trayvon Martin, it would be to organize a movement in attempts of rooting out systemic and institutional racism.”
BSU President Sierra Stewart echoed Washington and brought the discussion of institutional racism back to the UW.
“I want to be able to tie the case to what happens on campus and focus on not having these biased interactions,” Stewart said about racism still being present on campus.
Students voiced their opinions on the progress that is yet to be made and to what degree protests can solve issues of inequality. Some talked about the over-emphasis of the crime in which the accused is someone of a different ethnicity, and how the same issues and attention are not being held regarding black-on-black crime.
“If we want to talk about re-branding the African-American community, we have to fix the flaws in our community first before we change the way we’re presented to the world,” said senior Ethiopia Berta, a political science and diversity major.
La Rond Baker, staff attorney on the litigation team at American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington, discussed Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which states that a person may use force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat. Florida’s law says that as long as someone believes he is at risk, which mainly includes subjective fear, his actions are justifiable. Washington’s law requires both subjective and objective fear for one’s actions to be justifiable.
After the panelists spoke, Wells opened up the dialog to the participants to speak on the meaning of the case in terms of institutional racism, change, and progression. The participants also responded to the statement Bill Cosby made about the shooting: “Guns, not race, killed Trayvon Martin.”
The discussion centered around whether this conversation or case would have been different had Martin not been African-American. They talked about the repercussions of clothing and the image of being African-American and how that contributed to the shooting.
“Clothes played a factor — hoodies have normally been associated with ‘up to no good,’” said Jonathan Winn, ASUW director of diversity efforts.
One by one, students voiced their concerns on the misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding race, and how in order for tangible change to occur, activism must be a lifetime decision. People of color, Washington said, have to worry about the perceptions associated with their race.
“There’s a depth that being someone of color has to carry,” Washington said.
Reach reporter Allie Choy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @arriechoy