Parents in San Francisco: we want justice for Trayvon Martin

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Denika Chatman, mother of Kenneth Harding, 19, who was killed July 16 over a muni fare, holds up a transfer from that date
PHOTO BY WENDY KENIN

"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," President Obama reflected today. In the wake of Trayvon Martin's death, said Obama, “I can only imagine what these parents are going through.”

Martin, a black 17-year-old walking back to a family friend’s home in a gated community in Sanford, Florida was killed Feb. 26. His killer shot him after pursuing him in his car, and then on foot. 911 tapes and a confession from the killer, George Zimmerman, confirm his guilt. But no jury has had the chance to decide the case, as police have refused to so much as arrest him.

This remains true, even after Sanford police chief Bill Lee Jr stepped down temporarily in response to a nationwide outcry.

Police say that, at the scene, Zimmerman told them he was acting in self-defense. 

“Mr. Zimmerman provided a statement claiming he acted in self defense which at the time was supported by physical evidence and testimony. By Florida Statute, law enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time,” (emphasis theirs) said the chief in a statement yesterday. 

The killing, which has been called a case of “walking while black,” has ignited a call for justice throughout the country.

This call was made March 21 in San Francisco, when hundreds gathered downtown after a protest organized just two days earlier.

At  6 p.m. in Justin Herman Plaza, 500 held candles and listened as parents of black sons murdered in the Bay Area spoke.

Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, whose nephew, Oscar Grant, was killed by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle in 2009, expressed his support to Martin’s family.

“He was only 17. His life was taken away from him. This murder of Trayvon is very personal to me,” said Johnson. “It’s another baby gone.”

He added that, if Zimmerman is not arrested by Sunday, he plans to fly to Florida. 

“My wife and I will be on a plane to support the community.”

“It’s our kids who are going through this thing. If we don’t stand up for them, who will,” said Denika Chatman. Her son, Kenneth Harding Jr, was killed by police in July 2011. He was 19 years old.

The parents of James Rivera, Jr, who was 16 when he was killed by police in July 2010 in Stockton, also spoke to the crowd. 

“The pain still feels like it was yesterday,” said Rivera’s mother, Dionne Smith-Downs. “It’s been almost two years and we’ve received nothing. They didn’t even tell us why they shot our son.”

Many speakers asserted that, had the races been switched in the Martin case, law enforcement would likely have immediately arrested the perpetrator and he would likely be charged by now. Both first degree murder and felony murder are punishable by death in Florida.

In the United States, persons convicted of killing whites are four times more likely to be sentenced to death than persons convicted of killing African Americans. 

Hundreds then marched up Market Street. Many held signs reading “In loving memory, Trayvon Martin: 1995-2012.” Many wore hoodies, the garment that apparently made Martin appear “suspicious” to Zimmerman. 

Chants included “we are all Trayvon Martin,” “protect and serve, that’s a lie, they don’t care when black kids die,” and ‘Zimmerman: guilty. The system: guilty.”

The group then marched to UN Plaza, gaining supporters, including handfuls of passers-by and shoppers on every block. By Sixth Street the group was 700-strong.

Mourners then created a memorial for Martin at the foot of a pillar in UN plaza inscribed with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thousands in New York City also marched to the UN March 21, and the national call coincides with the UN’s International Day to End Racial Discrimination.

At the memorial, silence fell over the crowd when organizers called for participants to speak the name of anyone killed by the racism. In a chilling ceremony, many spoke, naming Sean Bell, Emmett Till, Nat Turner, Ramarley Graham, Fred Hampton, Troy Davis, Tookie Williams, and dozens of other black men killed in the United States spanning slavery, Jim Crow, the civil rights era and today.

Speakers demanded the immediate arrest of Zimmerman. But many maintained that arresting the killer in this case may not prevent “the next Trayvon Martin.”

“When Oscar was killed we said, we must work, because we cannot have another Oscar Grant. Now, we have another Oscar Grant. And there will be another one,” said Johnson.

Several mothers, many of whom did not give their names, spoke of the fear they feel for their children when they walk the streets, not knowing whether they will be the next victim of a racist crime.

“They don’t care when people kill our babies. We have to fight and stand up for our own people and for our children,” said one mother. 

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