The shouts of Penn students echoed through the city as a group of nearly 200 marched down Market Street in a public demonstration against racial injustice.
“What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
Adding to the many demonstrations of support across the country, Penn organized its own Million Hoodies March yesterday to raise awareness for the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who was shot and killed while walking home last month in Sanford, Fla.
A group of mostly students gathered at DuBois College House at 5 p.m. to march from Penn to LOVE Park in Center City, where community group Philly4Trayvon sponsored a candlelight vigil, open-mic session and a series of speakers.
Beginning at 39th and Walnut streets, the marchers gained momentum passing College Green and crossing Hill Field. They were accompanied by policemen on bicycles and in cars.
“Why are we here?” Penn Jazz Music Director Wade Dean addressed the crowd, standing on a stone park bench. “We are here to highlight that a young man was killed, that young black men are labeled in this country.” His voice rose with a sharp crescendo. “Let’s keep this movement moving.”
Marchers raised their voices again in call-and-response refrains, such as “I am Trayvon Martin, I am not suspicious!” Drivers passing by pumped their fists and gave thumbs-up signs from their car windows.
College junior Haywood Perry, an organizer of the march, said the chants should remind onlookers that “this is an issue that should equally impact every human being.”
He added, “The killing of a 17 year old should resonate. By saying we are Trayvon Martin, we are showing solidarity.”
The Million Hoodies March derived its name from the hooded sweatshirts marchers wore to symbolize their solidarity with Martin. The sweatshirts also satirized Martin’s reportedly “suspicious” appearance on the night he was killed.
Makuu, Penn’s black cultural center, and UMOJA jointly organized the campus-wide rally, calling on all community supporters of Martin and his family to join in the march.
“We didn’t want this to be a regular structured event, identified with only a single group,” said College junior Aya Saed, UMOJA Planning and Facilitating Chair. “We think it’s a much bigger picture than that.”
Saed, a Daily Pennsylvanian columnist, added, “We want to make sure people are aware of the racial element [of the shooting]. This isn’t just the story of one 17 year old. This is a problem in Philadelphia, and unfortunately, we had to have a death to show that this is happening.”
Makuu, UMOJA and its 26 constituent groups began planning for this march a week ago.
The marchers arrived at LOVE Park shortly after 6 p.m. The vigil, held in front of the iconic LOVE statue, addressed the controversy centered on the lack of charges pressed on Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, and the ways which Martin’s death should draw attention to the state of racial tensions in the United States.
Several speakers criticized the Florida self-defense law, by which Zimmerman has been released from police custody, while others called directly for his arrest.
Rodney Smith, a graduate student in the School of Education who served as a photographer and “general communications guy” for the march, likened Zimmerman to a scorned child.
“Zimmerman, you did something wrong, you need to have a time out,” he said to collected marchers and attendees. “And what is time out? It means you go to jail.”
A few of the speakers used last month’s shooting as an opportunity to throw the spotlight onto issues such as racial prejudice, unequal wages and gun violence in Philadelphia.
However, some Penn students who attended the march did not believe the speakers addressed the issues in the most responsible way.
After hearing one speaker use inflammatory language to criticize the Florida lawmakers, College junior Jamison Leid said, “This is not what we need, you can’t just say those things on national TV.” There was a line of cameramen next to the speaking podium.
Though he disapproved of this aggressive language, Leid hoped that, “Regardless of how [the event] turns out, it will prevent further incidents like what happened to Trayvon.”
At 7:17 p.m., the time when police found Martin dead, those at the vigil lit candles and cigarette lighters for a moment of silence. Martin had carried a bag of Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea when he died. Philadelphia resident Jonathan Cooper, a co-organizer of the vigil, poured a can of Arizona Iced Tea on the ground, as libation.
Penn’s Black Law Students Association also held a vigil yesterday to honor the one-month anniversary of Martin’s death.
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