Exactly one month ago today, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black male, was shot in his gated community in Sanford, Fla. He was on his way home, Skittles in hand. Martin was shot by self-appointed neighborhood watch George Zimmerman for looking suspicious.
But what exactly was suspicious about Martin? Was it his suspicious looking hoodie, or his suspicious bag of Skittles or maybe his suspicious skin color?
Zimmerman, a white Hispanic man, has admitted to killing Trayvon but has yet to be imprisoned because “the evidence doesn’t establish so far that Mr. Zimmerman did not act in self-defense,” Sanford police chief Bill Lee told The New York Times last week.
After listening to the 911 calls, it seems more than obvious that Zimmerman should have been arrested, contrary to what the police believe. Zimmerman was told time and time again to stay inside and to let the police handle the “dangerous” Martin. But he did not. In the call, Zimmerman is recorded saying that Martin “is running” and continues to follow him. What seems to bewilder me is why anyone would follow and run after someone who is deemed dangerous.
What is more aggravating about the situation is that Zimmerman himself has a criminal history. He was arrested in 2005 for resisting arrest and for acting violently toward a police officer.
Many find it precarious to label this incident as a race issue. To that I say: think again. We may not know all the facts of the case, but there are things we know. In the 911 calls, Zimmerman states that “these assholes always get away.” What group, exactly, might he be referring to?
Harassing “a young man simply because he is a black man is unacceptable,” Tukufu Zuberi, chair of the Sociology Department, said.
“The injustice is resonating,” he added. “This event is a flashpoint — it happened at a time when the information about it is being made public. Now that we know it happens, we cannot close our eyes.”
But the fight is not over. Martin is not dead — his memory is giving life to a powerful movement. And in his spirit, I’m asking this community to join the Million Hoodie March today at 5 p.m. in front of Du Bois College House as we march toward Love Park in protest.
We must start locally — because Philadelphia is not immune to racial profiling — by calling the Philadelphia Police Department and urging Philadelphia policemen to abandon the use of “stop-and-frisk.” According to Change.org, there was a 148-percent increase in the number of black pedestrians “randomly” stopped by the police between 2005 and 2009 — right in our city.
This is not just about Trayvon Martin. This is about Sean Bell, who was shot 50 times by undercover NYPD policemen the day before his wedding. This is about Patrick Dorismond, Oscar Grant, Ousman Zongo and the scores of black men who were brutally killed by police officers, most likely because of their skin color.
This is not just about Trayvon Martin. This is about the expectation that 32 percent of black males born in 2001 will spend some time in prison, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This figure has dramatically increased over the years, from 13.4 percent in 1974 to 29.4 percent in 1991. The same study revealed, in comparison, that 5.9 percent of whites born in 2001 expect to spend time in jail.
Zuberi added “the fact that a third of all black men have had an experience with the criminal justice [system] is unacceptable. We have to foster a better understanding of the humanity of African-American men. I reject the idea that African-American men are in some way more violent. There is something structurally biased in American society.”
This is not just about Trayvon Martin. This is about the brutal murder of an Iraqi woman in California this weekend because she was Muslim and thus deemed dangerous because of her religion.
This is not just about Trayvon Martin. This is about the black men on campus who are stopped and asked to prove that they are in fact Penn students.
This is not just about Trayvon Martin. This is about my father, my future children, my friends, peers and scores of people who belong to marginalized communities that have been victimized by the same systems that is made to protect us as American citizens and as humans.
Aya Saed is a College junior from Washington, D.C. Her email address is email@example.com. Seeds of Reason usually appears every other Friday.