Hooded justice

Hooded justice

Local leaders disappointed but not surprised by verdict in Trayvon Martin shooting case

By André Coleman 07/17/2013

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Pasadena community leaders said Saturday’s acquittal of Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the February 2012 shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., was disappointing but not surprising. 

“I expected this verdict all along,” said former NAACP Pasadena Branch President Joe Brown.

Gary Moody, who took over for Brown this year as the local NAACP president, said the verdict was “an indication of what we have allowed, based on apathy in the black community, and that is the continued attack on our young black men, institutionally, collectively and individually. No justice, no peace.”

Meanwhile, up to eight people were arrested in Hollywood on Sunday in relation to one of a number of protests that erupted throughout the Los Angeles area following the rendering of the verdict by Zimmerman’s all-female, six-person jury. 

A demonstration on Saturday evening, shortly after the verdict was announced, saw hundreds of people, some carrying signs, walk onto the Santa Monica (10) Freeway at around Crenshaw Boulevard, prompting two arrests and the temporary closure of the freeway.

The unrest continued Monday night, when 13 people were arrested on Crenshaw Boulevard in South Los Angeles following apparently random assaults on passersby and acts of vandalism. KCAL reporter Dave Bryan and an unnamed cameraman were taken to the hospital following one such attack. The cameraman’s identity and injuries were unknown at press time. Bryan reportedly suffered a concussion in the attack. Both men remained hospitalized Tuesday, according to published reports. 

In a protest Saturday on Crenshaw Boulevard, KNX reporter Claudia Peschiutta, a former reporter with the Glendale News-Press, was injured after being struck by a non-lethal bean bag fired by a police officer at the scene, according to the journalism industry Web site LAObserved.com.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said officers would take a tougher stance against protesters starting Tuesday night. “This will not be allowed to continue,” Beck said.

Demonstrations over the Zimmerman verdict were also staged in New York, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington DC, and Oakland. In Oakland, protesters threw trash cans through windows and attempted to start fires. No arrests were made there, but up to a dozen people were taken into police custody in New York as protesters marched through Times Square.

The Rev. Al Sharpton told The Associated Press that Martin’s supporters will hold vigils and rallies Saturday in front of federal facilities in 100 cities. Sharpton joined a chorus of calls for the US Justice Department to prosecute Zimmerman for violating 17-year-old Martin’s civil rights.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama called on the nation to respect the verdict acquitting Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter and to reflect on gun violence. 

“I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son,” Obama said. “And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis.”

“I can’t say I am disappointed, because I am not surprised, because that’s the way it is,” said Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education President Renatta Cooper. “I believe maybe Trayvon will serve as this generation’s Emmett Till, and, unfortunately, I think they needed one. I hear a lot from young people who say we live in a post-racial era and the work has been done. It has not been done and they need to start doing the work.”

Till, 14, was murdered in 1955 after whistling at a white woman in Money, Miss. Despite her son’s face and body being beaten beyond recognition, Till’s mother, Mamie, held an open casket memorial for her son so the world could see the horrors of racism in the South. At that time, African Americans were ruled under repressive separate but unequal social rules that became codified statutes known as Jim Crow laws. The three men accused of murdering Till were eventually acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury after just an hour of deliberation.

“The impact [of the verdict] is very direct. My feelings have been déjà vu from Michael Bryant to Kendrec McDade,” Moody said. Bryant died while in LAPD custody in 1993. The unarmed McDade, 19, was killed in March 2012 by Pasadena police officers who believed he was carrying a weapon. 

Moody emailed his comments to the Pasadena Weekly from Orlando, about 25 miles from Sanford, where he was attending an NAACP conference being held there last week.

“Overall, it is a travesty that our young black men are guilty of WWB (walking while black), which joins DWB (driving while black) and JBB (just being black),” he wrote. “Our young brothers are covertly and suspiciously indicted with systematic street justice. Trayvon and Kendric are blatant examples of the assault on our African-American males across the country.”

Brown, said that, like the Till tragedy, the Martin case should be used as a teachable moment for young people. 

“There is a great opportunity for us to immerse our young people into civil advocacy so they can understand how the system works and to sit down and educate them on what it takes to educate them on the legislative process,” Brown said. “I do not encourage civil disobedience. I knew they would never get justice in Florida.”

Brown pointed out the high number of lynchings committed in Florida during a portion of the Jim Crow Era. Florida had the highest rate of lynchings per capita in the nation from 1882 to 1930. During that time, one of every 1,250 African Americans living in Florida was lynched, proportionately seven times higher than the number of people killed in North Carolina, and nearly twice the lynching rate of neighboring Georgia, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Florida was also one of nine states forced to get approval from the federal government to make changes to its voting process in compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Two weeks ago, the US Supreme Court lifted requirements for federal oversight of election procedures in Florida and the eight other Southern states.

The 29-year-old Zimmerman, a self-described Neighborhood Watch captain, shot and killed the unarmed Martin on Feb. 26, 2012 after Zimmerman disobeyed an emergency dispatcher’s orders and began following the teen around a gated community in Sanford, Fla., where Martin was staying with his father. When he encountered Zimmerman, Martin was walking home from a nearby liquor store, purchasing an iced tea and a bag of Skittles. It was raining, and the teen was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, or a hoodie. The shooting enraged people across the country. Celebrities ranging from boxing legend Muhammad Ali to talk show host Ellen DeGeneres appeared in photo campaigns wearing hoodies and proclaiming that “We are all Trayvon Martin.”

Civil rights leaders accused Sanford police detectives of dragging their feet on the case and demanded Zimmerman’s arrest. On April 11, 2012, 45 days after the shooting, Zimmerman was finally arrested, but only after state Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office filed criminal charges. Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee told CNN that he was fired two months later for not making the arrest sooner.

Martin’s parents were not in the courtroom Saturday when the verdict was read at around 10 p.m. East Coast time. By then, hundreds of people had gathered outside the courthouse, many of them expressing disappointment in the verdict. 

“I think, for the moment, we have to respect the verdict, but I don’t agree with it,” said Pasadena City Councilman John Kennedy.  “Hopefully, the US Attorneys’ Office is another option for prosecution. If they can find a violation under the US Civil Rights Code, they could possibly prosecute Zimmerman in that manner.”

A similar tactic worked in the case of the four LAPD officers who beat Altadena’s Rodney King, whose acquittal in 1992 sparked the worst urban rioting in American history. The following year, LAPD Sgt. Stacey Koon and Officers Timothy Wind, Laurence Powell and Theodore Briseno were charged with violating King’s civil rights. Koon and Powell were convicted on those charges after being tried in federal court.

“The facts in the [Martin] case, in some respect, were difficult,” Kennedy noted. “But the outcome, in my view, is unfortunate.”

Pasadena Councilwoman Jacque Robinson said the Martin case illustrates the need for young people to be more engaged in politics.

“We need to talk to them about the inequities that exist within our justice system and in society and let them know they can engage in the process that makes these decisions by registering to vote and showing up for jury duty,” Robinson said. 

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