Thousands of black and white protesters took to the streets of New York on Wednesday of last week. They wore hooded tops and chanted “We are all Trayvon Martin” in protest at the slaying of a black teenager in Florida last month.
Trayvon was walking to his father’s house through a gated community in Sanford, Florida, on 26 February.
He had raised his hood in the rain when he was spotted by George Zimmerman—a white 28 year old aspiring cop and neighbourhood watch “captain”.
Zimmerman reported someone “real suspicious” to the police—and ignored their instruction not to pursue.
Emergency calls made by neighbours immediately afterwards record cries for help followed by a gunshot.
Zimmerman told police he fired his gun in self defence. He was not charged or even detained. Sanford police chief Bill Lee took Zimmerman’s self-defence claim at face value.
He said Zimmerman could not be arrested because of the state’s “stand your ground” law which allows the use of deadly force when threatened.
Florida’s justifiable homicide rulings have tripled since this law passed in 2005. But even the state senators who drew up the law say it should not apply to this case.
Calls for an investigation started in Sanford and slowly spread. A Facebook call for a “Million Hoodie March” in New York was taken up by many areas.
After only two days of organising almost 5,000 people showed up in New York’s Union Square park. “The sleeping giant has arisen—the hood is speaking,” said Malik Rhassan, a founder of Occupy the Hood which helped build the rally.
Many on the demonstration pointed out that if a black man had shot a white teen he would surely be in jail with no bail.
Trayvon’s parents came to the demonstration. His mother was on the verge of tears as she urged the crowd, “Stand up for justice. Stand up for what’s right.” His father added, “We’re not going to stop until we get justice for Trayvon.”
City councillor Jumaane Williams noted, “It’s Trayvon Martin in Florida. It’s Ramarley Graham in the Bronx.” Ramarley was an unarmed black teen killed by New York police last month.
Occupy Wall Street helped to mobilise people for the protest. Some Occupy groups have been campaigning against the police’s oppressive use of “stop and frisk” against minorities.
Shock at the state’s response to Trayvon’s killing mixed with accumulated anger at the police as the rally spilled into the streets at dusk. The crowd chanted, “Protect and serve, that’s a lie—they don’t care if black kids die!”
Since then there have been actions in several other cities, including Miami, Atlanta, Washington DC and Philadelphia, which saw a crowd of 2,500 more than double as it marched.
In a much circulated photo the Miami Heat basketball team posed in hoodies and bowed heads in solidarity with Trayvon. The next Sunday church congregations across the country wore hoodies.
President Barack Obama had initially kept notably quiet. But after the uproar he said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” This sparked a furious reaction from far right Republicans like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.
To the majority of Americans the racial element is obvious—and this will further isolate the right wing Republicans.
A growing minority, symbolised by Occupy Wall Street, is rejecting the economic system that led to the present crisis. Now they are speaking out against the racism of the US system.
Trayvon Martin protest at the US embassy, Grovesnor Square, London W1A 2LQ, Saturday 31 March, 1.30pm