By Kharisma McIlwaine
ABOVE PHOTO: Rally supporters at Love Park.
(Photo: Bill Z. Foster)
On February 26th, 2012 17 year old Trayvon Martin was gunned down by self proclaimed Captain of the Neighborhood Watch George Zimmerman. Trayvon Martin, an innocent teenager wearing a hoodie on the way back from a nearby store armed only with skittles and an ice tea was murdered. This story has stirred up national controversy for a number of reasons. The first and most important reason is the fact that George Zimmerman the man who murdered him, is still a free man almost a month after the incident!
Nothing has been done to punish the murder of an innocent child or to protect the community from a trigger happy gunman. Despite Zimmerman’s description of Trayvon’s “suspicious behavior” i.e. walking while talking on a cell phone and carrying Skittles, it was Martin’s physical appearance that lead to Zimmerman following Trayvon first in his car and then getting out of his car to hunt him on foot. Zimmerman was told by police “We don’t need you to do that.” Again–why is he still a free man???
I come from a line of civil rights activists. My great grandparents were two of the original plaintiffs in Briggs vs. Elliott which was the first of five cases later combined and argued by Thurgood Marshall as Brown vs. Board of Education. “Fight for what you believe in” is a phrase that I heard often in my household. My great grandparents, grandparents, and parents grew up in an era where protests, marches, and people standing up for social justice were things that happened whenever there was a worthy cause, but for me the Trayvon Martin march was the first time in my adult life that my generation came together in solidarity for an injustice! Trayvon Martin was actively pursued, hunted down, and executed. He was perceived as less than human because he was a black male teenager wearing a hood. To actually write the previous sentence down is painful for me, but the fact that this is the mindset for some is even more egregious!
There are some people that disagree with me and the First Amendment allows them freedom of speech. That being said here’s my free speech when I hear people like Geraldo Rivera say “His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangsta — you’re going to be a gangsta wannabe, well people are going to perceive you as a menace. That’s what happens. It is an instant, reflexive action.” is nauseating.
PHOTO: Rev. Micah Sims speaks at Monday’s Love Park Rally/Vigil in support of Trayvon Martin.
(Photo: Bill Z. Foster)
I wonder if he’s really an idiot or if idiotic things just come out of his mouth, but I digress. If we go with that way of thinking what is the next prohibited article of clothing for parents of children of color? What should parents not allow them to wear for fear that someone will look past their innocence and see some sort of non existing threat to their safety based solely on their melanin???? Should skull caps be banned, timberlands, certain sneakers, baseball caps, shades… Does protecting your head, eyes, and feet from the elements somehow make you look menacing?? A number of people myself included feel that the answers to those questions is NO!
On the evening of Thursday March 23rd, there was a rally in New York called the “Million Hoodie March” which signified that a hoodie is not synonymous with danger, crime, and fear instead hoodies symbolized standing up for peace, justice, and innocence. The march in New York ignited a spark which was the catalyst for Philadelphians to come together in a similar mission to protest the travesty of what happened to Trayvon Martin.
On Friday March 24th, at 7:17 PM with the help of Jason Moody of the OnThe Cornerstone radio station and a few other organizers, Philadelphians literally filled the streets as we walked in solidarity from 30th Street Station with our hoodies in tow to LOVE Park. I actually found out about the march through Instagram and was amazed to see how the word spread like wildfire through social media! Immediately after hearing about the march I knew that I HAD to be there! A group of my friends decided to meet up a little before the march and walk over together.
To be there at the march, to see everyone come together the way they did… words cannot even begin to describe the pride that I felt not only to participate in the march but to see how many people cared about this young man that none of us knew but all of us knew! Everyone was there. I saw childhood friends, media personalities (Al Butler of 900am, Mike Jerrick of Fox 29) people of numerous ethnic backgrounds, and ages. All of us had one thing in common the senseless death of Trayvon Martin. As we walked through the streets of Philadelphia people chanted a number of phrases. The one phrase that stood out most for me was “I am Trayvon”.
In a few years I may have a son or a daughter that is Trayvon Martin, I have younger cousins that are Trayvon Martin, I am Trayvon Martin, We are all Trayvon Martin! My hope is that the power of the numbers, the power of our voices standing up against injustice, and the power of the compassion shown by people across the country for the death of this innocent young man will show that the lives of ALL the Trayvon Martins of the world are precious, worth protecting and worth saving!