Students and faculty both gathered last Tuesday, April 3rd to rally for Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old African American male who was killed last February in Sanford, Florida. Questions about racial profiling, Florida’s controversial “Stand your ground” law, and the delayed arrest of Martin’s killer, neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, has led to public outrage across the nation.
Students and faculty both spoke about discrimination on and off campus, and also emphasized the need for civic engagement during the rally.
“Why do these rallies keep happening? Because we haven’t changed the laws, we haven’t changed people…” said Rev. Dr. Beauchamp
Dr. Ayanna Brown also stated that voting in local elections is essential in order to create change, stating that people are often uneducated about smaller elections, such as those for district attorneys, and fail to exercise their voting power.
“If you don’t vote, people don’t become empowered, and the law in Florida, would have never been the law in Florida, if people had not let that vote in Florida to be what it was,” said Brown, referring to Florida’s “stand your ground” law, and citing the fact that Zimmerman’s father was a judge.
Students were urged to sign up for EC’s recently established chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people (NAACP) towards the end of the rally. According to Jeremy Allen, who helped establish the chapter on campus, the rally helped create a positive response to the civil rights organization, and there were a number of new members following the rally.
Freshman Reginald Thedford Jr., an NAACP member and rally organizer stated that “racial profiling and stereotyping was a huge factor in the death of Trayvon Martin,” but he agreed with fellow NAACP member Allen and Washington, who were also speakers at the rally, that profiling, discrimination, and Zimmerman’s delayed conviction is an issue that any race could suffer from and should be addressed by all.
“It’s going to be easy for, especially us, who are nowhere near Florida…to turn a blind eye, but… it’s a big problem for the whole society. And too many times you have situations where it turns into an ‘us versus them’ … as soon as the race card was played,” said Washington, who continued that when race was acknowledged as part of the issue, the overall moral wrong of Trayvon Martin’s murder started to be neglected by the community as a whole.
Allen, Washington, and Thedford agreed that one of the greatest challenges in dealing with such issues was people being afraid to address racial tensions head on, in hopes that not talking about race will bring an end to racism.
“The only way to get rid of [racism] is to confront it,” said Thedford, who stated that racism has evolved from what it was before, “it’s not blatant [anymore], it’s a subconscious mindset.”
Allen described the mission of the NAACP as a way to create a support system, saying that it is scary for people to have conversations on and confront sensitive topics such as race and discrimination alone. “The NAACP is known to be a take action group…there’s a problem on campus, we go speak to the administration or campus security and see how we can work these things out,” said Washington.