“No justice!” I called out. “No peace!” hundreds of voices shouted back. We refuse to be silent — now, more than ever, we must act.
On Tuesday, hundreds of my peers and community members took a stand for justice as part of the Million Hoodie Marches that have been occurring across the country over the past six weeks after George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26.
A lot of things have been written about this case. I can’t shed new light on the facts or clarify things any more clearly than they already are. This is not a complicated issue — it’s an issue of justice.
Zimmerman — who just yesterday was finally charged with murder and taken into custody — felt threatened by Martin because of the outrageously outdated stereotypes surrounding young black men. These stereotypes are perpetuated by media outlets and our country’s institutions.
I write this as a privileged white man, who has never been confronted with such dehumanizing stereotypes. Patrick Parkinson, an LSA junior, is a black male who helped organize the march and spoke afterwards. He said that each time a white woman walks by him at night and clutches her purse closer to her, the feeling is like a stab to his heart.
I will never feel that pain.
What I can feel is the pain of a deep injustice. Not just at the murder itself, but at the police and state’s slow response to the murder.
I do not want my children growing up in a world where their friends could be killed based on the color of their skin. I refuse to leave the fighting just to those who are directly affected by our society’s backwards value system. I feel compelled to join in the movement to bring Zimmerman to justice and expose the flawed institutions that our country is built around for what they are.
The march was a great first step. We walked down major streets with plenty of onlookers and got plenty of attention. It was empowering to walk among the bystanders, knowing that we walk for justice.
The most inspiring moment came near the end of the march. As we marched through the narrow walkway between Randall Library and West Hall, our chants echoed back at us. “What do we want?” “Justice!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” This refrain has been used thousands of times, around the world, in many different languages, for decades. With the echo, we seemed to be engulfed within the glorious history of activism.
But it does not end here. We know that a march is just a march if there is no attempt to make it part of a movement.
After the equally unjust state-sponsored assassination of Troy Davis in Georgia on Sept. 21, 2011, there were small-scale protests on campus and across the country. I now view that time as a crucial lesson in this work. It taught me the need for sustainability and targets.
There are three targets at play here:
First, the laws. Loose gun laws and supposed “Stand Your Ground” laws are at the root of the institutional problems that have led to reckless homicides without cause all across the country. Like Florida, Michigan also has a “Stand Your Ground” law, HB 5143. This law removes the legal duty to retreat from a situation and allows people to use lethal force when feeling threatened. Because of the loose interpretations this law permits, several systematically oppressed members of society are the likely victims of these homicides simply because of the color of their skin and the clothing they are wearing. Students and community activists are already going through the process to get a proposition to repeal the law on the ballot in November.
Second, our campus community. “Stand Your Ground” laws are made worse by stereotypes that society holds. These stereotypes — as have been repeatedly and publicly stated — continue to be used on this campus against students of color. We should hold seminars, trainings and workshops in order to combat these stereotypes head on with education and dialogue.
Third, our administration. The complete and utter lack of diversity on this campus contributes to ignorance and apathy. The only way to change this is through the administration. Students from the Coalition for Tuition Equality and eRACism will once again demonstrate before the University’s Board of Regents at their monthly meeting. Join us at 2 p.m. on April 19th at the Cube for a rally before the meeting.
We need a sustainable movement to create real change. It cannot happen overnight. These are not the only targets, but they are at least a starting point. And we must get started.
Yonah Lieberman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @YonahLieberman.