Just before sunset on February 26, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. Returning to his father’s house from a convenience story around the corner, he carried nothing but a bag of Skittles, an iced tea, and his cell phone. But walking home through a quiet gated suburb in Florida, the black 17 year-old was killed by a single gunshot — by a man who police have declined to charge with a crime.
One month later, frustrated by the police’s failure to prosecute Martin’s killer, about three thousand protesters demonstrated in Union Square on Wednesday at a rally called “A Million Hoodie March.” The event attracted a huge media presence and, presumably due to the presence of Occupy Wall Street activists, hundreds of NYPD officers who ringed the park.
“A couple of my friends got arrested. But this is a bigger issue than getting arrested,” he added.
911 tapes, made haunting by the knowledge of a death just minutes away, reveal what happened. George Zimmerman, Martin’s killer, was patrolling the neighborhood in his SUV as captain of an unofficial, unregistered neighborhood watch. Zimmerman called 911 to report “a real suspicious guy” in his neighborhood. “This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something,” Zimmerman reports to the dispatcher.
Minutes later, still on the line with 911, Zimmerman sees Martin break into a run. “These assholes… they always get away,” Zimmerman mutters. He begins to chase Martin on foot, although the dispatcher advises him not to.
Meanwhile, according to an ABC News report, Martin was also on the phone. ABC spoke to a 16-year-old girl who Martin called after he noticed he was being watched. The girl reports that Martin had put his hood up and then began running to get away. Moments later, she overheard the confrontation between Martin and his killer: “Trayvon said, ‘What, are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’”
At that point, a scuffle broke out, and Martin dropped his phone. 911 calls from neighbors began flooding the dispatcher. In some, shouts for help can be heard in the background. Martin’s mother identified the screams as her son’s voice, though Zimmerman maintains that he was the one calling out.
In the scuffle, Zimmerman drew his gun. A single shot ended Martin’s life.
The local police interviewed Zimmerman, who claimed self defense. He was not charged.
Big name media outlets with cameramen elbowed through the crowd, awaiting the arrival of Trayvon Martin’s parents, who travelled to Union Square to say a word to the rally. As the crowd waited, they chanted “Do I look suspicious? I am suspicious,” referring to the 911 in which Zimmerman told police that Martin was “suspicious,” right before he left his vehicle to pursue him. Lead chanters encouraged the crowd that they should yell like they want to be heard in Florida, where the case is being handled.
“I just want New York to know that we aren’t going to stop until we get justice for Trayvon,” Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, shouted from Union Square. “I’m here to ensure that justice is served and no other parents have to go through this again.”
“My heart is in pain,” said Sabrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, as her voice quivered over the mics held out by reporters. “God bless you,” some in the crowd yelled out to comfort her.
“This is not about a black and white thing; it’s a right and wrong thing,” she said back.
Andy Golardo, a 23-year-old Hispanic artist from Long Island, moved through the thick crowd with a can of spray paint tucked into the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt, holding a homemade stencil of Martin’s face. “I think we have some hidden racial issues that we have to take the blanket off of,” Golardo said. “If you’re black with a hood, you’re gonna be a target. If you’re Arab with a turban, you’re gonna be a target,” he said. “It’s 2012. We shouldn’t be dealing with this injustice.”
Further along the edge of the crowd, NYU freshman Mackenzie Taylor held a hand-made sign high above her bleached mohawk: “BLACK + HOODIE = SUSPICIOUS???”
Golardo and Taylor’s comments reveal the subtext of Tuesday’s rally — Martin’s killing is the most recent in a series of incidents which suggest that issues of racism in America are far from resolved.
Many spoke out against what they called the discrimination that takes place daily in New York, at the hands of police. “I feel like the situation was unjust. This movement is sweeping the nation everywhere.” said Hameen Eason, 28, who wore a dark hoody.
In his neighborhood in Brooklyn, Eason said he has “been pulled out of a cab and searched for no reason and searched. Just because we have a hoody on doesn’t mean we are bad.”
A man named Mel, who didn’t give his last name for personal reasons, said he came to the rally with his 15-year-old son because “he could have been Trayvon.”
But he wasn’t optimistic at all. “I don’t think much is going to happen. They might tweak that damn law, and if they at least do that, I will be happy. But I think that the cops are still going to profile and they are still going to frisk us. I just hope that this doesn’t happen to anyone else’s family,” he said.
Many attendees cited Martin’s fallen peers. In the fall, Union Square was the scene of a huge rally after the execution of Troy Davis. Davis, also black, was killed by the state of Georgia after being convicted of murdering an off-duty police officer. The majority of the eyewitnesses to the crime had recanted their testimony since Davis’ trial, and no physical evidence was ever presented.
In early February, an NYPD officer shot and killed Ramarley Graham after chasing him into his home. Like Martin, Graham was a unarmed, young, and black. He was killed in his bathroom, trying to flush a small bag of marijuana down the toilet.
The previous week, NYPD officers were filmed beating a 19-year-old black man in the Bronx. The film ends when an officer points his can of pepper spray at the camera man (filming the police is legal in NYC).
Many in the crowd connected Martin’s killing to such larger race problems. Others took the issue one step further drawing a link between racism and capitalism. Ben Becker, an organizer with the Harlem-based Party for Socialism and Liberation, held a printed sign which on one side called for justice for Trayvon Martin; on the other, a quote by Malcolm X: “You can’t have capitalism without racism.”
Becker explained the connection. “How do you have a society where a tiny percent have so much power, have so much wealth? How you retain that is by getting people to turn against each other,” he said. “A central element of the way capitalism was built in this country was the suppression of black people, which often manifests in expressions of violence from slavery to Jim Crow.”
Such a critique of capitalism was, surprisingly, not out of place. Occupy Wall Street was a large presence at the event, and their huge yellow banner wrapped around the edge of the crowd, facing outwards towards 14th Street. Occupy had tried to made Union Square their new home following a show of force by the NYPD at Zuccotti Park on the movement’s six month anniversary last Saturday. The night before the rally for Trayvon Martin, NYPD forcefully removed scores of protestors from Union Square.
Jonathan Vivar stood at the end of a line of a dozen young men holding up the long “Occupy” banner. He said that many in the Occupy community were outraged by Martin’s death.
“The way we dress or walk or act shouldn’t say anything about who we are,” he said. “United, we can stand in solidarity.”