Protest makes it harder to ignore injustice

Full Disclosure: I started wearing hoodies in high school and they’ve been a staple part of my wardrobe since.

That’s not the only reason, of course, I was disturbed when Geraldo

New York State Senator Eric Adams, "I am Trayvon Williams."

Rivera suggested that Trayvon Martin’s attire was responsible for an armed neighborhood watch volunteer killing him.

Why is Geraldo even talking about the killing of Trayvon Martin?  And why is a New York State Senator wearing a hoodie in the Senate chamber?  (If he were cold, wouldn’t a Santorum style sweater vest be more appropriate?)

Putting on the hoodie is one way people have expressed their outrage with the killing of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old high school student in Sanford Florida, a month ago on February 26.

George Zimmerman, a zealous neighborhood watch volunteer who dreamed of becoming a police officer, saw the boy, judged him to be suspicious, called the police, ignored directions to leave him alone, assessed Martin as dangerous, and shot him to death.  (Reports that Zimmerman says Martin hit him are just beginning to circulate.)  Zimmerman claims self-defense, citing Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which protects people who use force, even deadly force, when they are threatened.

There are a lot of stories here that will continue to unfold for a long time.  The important one now is that there IS a national story.  Martin’s death got little attention from the Sanford police, much less the national media, until activists were able to use social media to spread the story–emphasizing the George Zimmerman was not arrested, or even detained, by the police.  Trayvon’s parents used change.org to circulate a petition calling for Zimmerman’s arrest.  As I write, it bears well over two million signatures.

The petition, along with protests and the ensuing media coverage, kept the story alive, and preserved the possibility that something else might come out of the tragic shooting of a child.  A month after the killing, there have been demonstrations across the United States, including virtually every large city in America.  Activists used the tragedy as a piece of a much larger story about widespread social problems.

Miami Heat players in hoodies

Parents of African American and Latino youth saw the killing as an instance of racism, recounting the detailed instructions they give their children in dealing with authorities, particularly police.  “The rules,” one mother explained, mean knowing “who you are.  You can’t do everything they do.”

Most of the stories emphasize the inherent dangers young black and Latino men face in dealing with police, who are armed and charged with facing dangerous situations.   (As your friends about their stories of encounters with police.)  But George Zimmerman wasn’t a police officer.

He was, however, armed.  Another grievance is the easy availability of guns in the United States generally, and even moreso in Florida.  Neighborhood watch patrols are normally equipped with flashlights and phones.  George Zimmerman was carrying his own gun–legally.  It’s doubtful that he would have pursued Martin without it.  Certainly, he couldn’t have shot him.  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the shooting demonstrates the need for gun control.

Zimmerman hasn’t, at this writing, been arrested, ostensibly protected by Florida’s “Stand your Ground” law.  John F. Timoney, formerly Miami’s police chief, published a piece in the New York Times, explaining why he and other police chiefs opposed the law.  Essentially, police officers can be trained and held accountable.  There is supposed to be a formal investigation every time a police officer fires a weapon; why should there be less than this for someone who hasn’t been subject to training?

Activists are trying to bring meaning to a senseless tragedy.  You know the story because they would not let it fade away.  By itself, this is a victory of sorts.  And it’s not enough.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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3 Responses to Protest makes it harder to ignore injustice

  1. olderwoman says:

    You have a case close to home that has not gone national: Manuel Loggins was shot in a San Clemente school parking lot in front of his daughters by an OC deputy sheriff who first said he thought he was witnessing a kidnapping (can you guess what race Loggins’ wife is?) and then changed the story (several times) to include more erratic behavior by Loggins. Friends of Loggins say he was an upright guy who was in the habit of taking an early morning prayer walk with his daughters at the school track before starting work. The daughters were held by the police for 11 hours before being released to their mother. The family is suing. No national break-out.

  2. Sonia says:

    My K can get really into dfeending something she believes in. She will never set foot in Sea World and rarely visits the zoo. She believes all animals should be free and will let you know. My soon to be Vegan can be very opinionated. I told her stories of when I was her age and had styrofoam banned from Burbank Schools, let her know that if you believe in something you must let others know, make others educated, and not back down if someone doesn’t agree. I so heart the young lady she’s becoming.I’m so for as well Zimmermann 2012. This man I do believe to be a racist (my opinion) should face the consequences of his actions. There are so many facts to show he DID NOT have to shoot this boy. I read the boy saved his father from a fire, got good grades, played sports, and was robbed of the rest of his life. So sad. I really believe that Florida (my opinion again) is the most racist state I’ve been to and I avoid flying into there anymore. I’ve been flying into Georgia because I couldn’t stand all the racism I saw when I did spend some time there.I commend these kids taking a stand for something they believe in and it seems they are doing it peacefully which is something some adults need to see.

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