A crowd of more than 150 students and faculty stood silently at the steps of the Hatcher Graduate Library last night, listening intently as LSA senior Annie Sajid commenced a candlelight vigil in honor of two recent high-profile murders.
“Tonight, we hope to come together in solidarity for a world where hijabs and hoodies don’t affect your life expectancy,” Sajid said, referring to the clothing of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American boy from Florida, and Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old Iraqi-American woman from California, who were both killed recently in separate instances of alleged hate crimes.
Attendees of the vigil, which featured seven speakers and a moment of silence for the deceased, began arriving as dusk settled over the Diag with candles and signs reading, “Justice for those that the media missed” and “We are all Shaima.”
LSA Junior Shanita Thomas, a speaker at the event, said she organized the vigil for Martin when she learned that Michigan has a law similar to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which may allow Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, to walk free under claims of self defense.
“It was important to me just because I am African American, and so, a lot of things were happening, and I felt very strongly about it,” Thomas said. “I just wanted to perform something where we all had on hoodies; just like any of us here now, that could be us.”
Sajid, a member of the Muslim Students’ Association, said she joined the cause after Alawadi’s death to show solidarity with the African-American community, adding that she also contacted the University’s Iraqi Student Association to encourage them to get involved.
“There was a lot of grief and shock, and I think channeling that into action was important for me personally (because) I felt almost paralyzed by it,” Sajid said. “I think the reason that University of Michigan students should focus on this, and why it’s relevant to them, is that this is a reality. Racism, intolerance, bigotry is a reality in America, and we need to acknowledge it as the next generation.”
Rackham student Mohammed Tayssir Safi, the University’s Muslim chaplain and a speaker at the event, said people are obliged to raise awareness about race-fueled tragedies.
“As human beings, I think that we all have an unbreakable bond and an unbreakable responsibility to one another,” Safi said. “When an individual (is) killed unjustly in the type of incident that Trayvon was killed in, I think that it hurts all of us as a community.”
Safi said the event’s strong turnout displayed the community’s ability to make a lasting impact.
“I know there have been turnouts all across the country for Trayvon,” he said. “I hope that people continue to raise their consciousness and continue to have a global effect to build relationships as community members.”
LSA senior Eman Abdelhadi, president of the University’s Muslim Students’ Association, spoke at the event and said the vigil not only allowed students to process their grief by uniting in a positive way, but also built bridges between multiple communities.
“It recognizes underlying causes behind these deaths, which is really just one cause — and that’s racism,” Abdelhadi said. “This all comes back to ‘fear of the other.’ Both of these events come back to people of color’s lives being at risk … because of hatred, because of stereotypes and because of this environment that we have in our country of xenophobia.”
Abdelhadi said the event provided an opportunity to educate the student body about important racial issues.
“This event, it’s not an isolated incident,” she said. “It’s an incident that highlights these pent up tensions and these problematic discourses that you still see every day just turning on the news.”
LSA sophomore Margaret Staeber said she attended the event because she was disappointed that such killings still occur today.
“As a white female, I may not have come against a lot of the problems that other people have,” Staeber said. “But you can all still band together and really show why these things aren’t okay and why they never should have been okay.”
LSA junior Patrick Parkinson, a member of a coalition for diversity, announced at the end of the event that students will be holding a Million Hoodie March on April 10 to further honor Martin and Alawadi.
“Frankly, I’m fed up,” Parkinson said. “The fight cannot end here tonight.”