The possibly racially-motivated killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an African-American, by 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic neighborhood-watch volunteer, sparked outrage around the nation and student response at the College and its fellow Five-College institutions.
Martin was walking home from 7-11, a pack of Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea in his hands, when he was followed and fatally shot by Zimmerman, who claimed to have acted in self-defense. Zimmerman had called 911 to report a “suspicious” individual and began trailing Martin on foot, despite requests from the 911 responder to let the police handle the manner. A confrontation began between Zimmerman and the unarmed teen, during which Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest at close range. During the 911 call, Zimmerman may have used a racial slur to refer to Martin, and in a 911 call from a witness a young man’s voice, believed to be Martin’s, is heard screaming for help in the background. Officers arrested and interrogated Zimmerman at the scene, but later released him without any charges, leading many to accuse the Sanford Police Department of displaying racial bias.
After Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera suggested that “Trayvon’s hoodie killed him as surely as George Zimmerman did,” the hoodie became a symbol of solidarity for supporters of Martin. This comment angered many who believed that Rivera was shifting blame from Zimmerman and engaging in racial stereotyping. To protest the killing and show support for Martin and his family, the Alliance of Black Professionals organized a 1,000 Hoodies Walk in Springfield, Mass. this Saturday, which was attended by several students from the College.
Roshard Bryant ’13, one of the students who joined in the rally, said that he went to protest racial profiling and injustice in general. “The Trayvon Martin Case is not just a case of racial profiling but also a matter of political injustice … The death of Trayvon Martin not only testifies to racism’s ability to still manifest itself in physical forms, but also our governments continuing failure to provide true justice against racial injustice. The fact that George Zimmerman has not been arrested and that the state has yet to take the steps to investigate this murder and prosecute him is not only a moral abomination, but a legal malpractice … Trayvon was a hard-working young man that had a bright future ahead of him and now that is gone. He was not a victim to a needy or angry state of mind, but instead is the victim of a racist man and unjust legal system.”
Closer to home, the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) organized an event Monday called “I Wear Hoodies Too!” where hoodie-wearing students could have their pictures taken to express solidarity for Martin and other victims of profiling. AAS Diversity Officer Rohan Mazumdar ’12, who helped organize the event, said, “The members of the AAS who were putting this on were mostly concerned with bringing to light an issue that should have been talked about. While we definitely didn’t want to impose ‘a belief’ or ‘a side’ on any topic, we would like students to be talking about this and engaging with each other. Of course, one hopes that this would further encourage students (along with the existing groups who do some great activism) to think about causes and engaging them.”
For students who wish to show support for Martin, the UMass Black Student Union is holding a rally this evening from 5:00-7:00 p.m. on the steps of the Student Union.