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Wednesday, April 4,2012

OU students rally for justice for Trayvon Martin but debate tough issue of racism

By Jenna Blakely
Photo Credits: Joel Prince
Photo Caption: Ohio University student Jimesha Mills, far right, leads her fellow students in a chant during a rally against racism held on Wednesday, March 28 in response to the death of Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old who was shot in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26.

Ohio University students and local residents rallied on College Green last Wednesday, demanding justice for Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Florida teen fatally shot by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman in late February.

Local rally-goers were encouraged to wear a hooded sweatshirt (hoodie), mirroring nationwide protests such as New York City's and Philadelphia's "Million Hoodie" marches.

OU senior Theron Andrus said he wasn't able to attend the rally, but agrees that Martin deserves justice and that Zimmerman should be arrested. "If other people wear a hoodie and look a certain way, how can they feel safe if others can just kill you because you look suspicious?" Andrus asked.

Martin's hoodie became the center of debate when Fox News contributor Geraldo Rivera blamed the boy's apparel for Zimmerman's alleged hate crime. "Trayvon Martin, God bless him, an innocent kid, a wonderful kid, a box of Skittles in his hand didn't deserve to die," Rivera said. "But I'll bet you money if he didn't have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn't have responded in that violent and aggressive way." Rivera added that a hoodie should only be worn if it's raining or when at a "track meet," though it was raining the night of Martin's killing, according to ABC News coverage.

Since the Feb. 26 shooting, debate surrounding the case has exploded with many people slamming the Sanford, Fla., Police Department, the Florida "stand-your-ground" self-defense law, and the possible role of racial profiling in the teen's tragic death. Others have charged that the outpouring of anger is itself a product of reverse discrimination, with critics disregarding the possibility that Zimmerman actually did act in self-defense as he claims.

"I think the fact that we're even talking about this is completely ridiculous," Andrus said. "I think that certain laws, such as 'stand-your-ground,' should not be decided on the scene by police officers. If anyone — black, white, Mexican, Native American — gets killed on the street, unarmed, then the person that kills them should be arrested. I know we have 'innocent until guilty,' but someone is dead, unarmed, while the other guy doesn't even have a scratch on him." 

According to ABC News coverage, the original police report found Zimmerman with a "bloody nose and wound on the back of his head," yet in a police surveillance video released last week, Zimmerman appears on tape, the night of the shooting, without any evident blood or bruises.

The Sanford Police took Zimmerman's word that it was self-defense. After arriving at the scene, they found Zimmerman armed with a handgun, while the unresponsive teen had only a bag of Skittles and bottle of iced tea. Zimmerman was never arrested or tested for drugs and alcohol, raising concerns of "questionable police conduct," according to the article.

On March 19, the U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation, and Florida's State Attorney's office announced plans to review the case before a grand jury on April 10.

Shortly after, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee resigned, as well as key investigator State Attorney Norman Wolfinger. Sanford Police continue to stand by Zimmerman's self-defense story, which claims that Martin punched his nose, slammed his head into the ground and tried to take his gun, as reported in ABC News.

The article further pointed out that the state will have to prove that Zimmerman is guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt," thanks to Florida's "stand-your-ground" law, which justifies deadly force in the case of self-defense (despite the fact that Zimmerman wasn't allowed to be armed in the first place on neighborhood watch).

However, authors of the law maintain that it doesn't apply to Zimmerman because of a 911 call in which Zimmerman admits to following the teen, making him an instigator. "You're not required to retreat, but you can't actually bring yourself to the fray and be the aggressor," attorney Jude Faccidomo said in NBC Miami News coverage.

On March 27, ABC News reported that protesters began demanding that Zimmerman be charged with a federal hate crime.

According to a letter to the editor published in the Post, OU senior Tazz Mays echoed Andrus' point that justice for Trayvon should be the primary focus of this case. In the letter, Mays wrote, "If the tragedy of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was not bad enough, there has been a lot of discussion on why what happened happened. Most of the arguments are concerned with whether Zimmerman is a racist or the fact that there were recent burglaries in the area or the fact that Trayvon was wearing a hoodie and had his hands full with Skittles and an Arizona iced tea. These are interesting points for discussion, but Zimmerman shot a child. I barely care about the rest of the facts. Zimmerman shot a child."

Last Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Illinois, sported a gray hoodie on the House floor during his statement about Martin's killing. Rush urged the end of racial profiling, adding, "Just because someone wears a hoodie, does not make them a hoodlum," according to ABC News coverage.

His microphone was cut off for violating the U.S. House of Representatives' dress code.

According to, the petition calling for Zimmerman's prosecution is the "fastest-growing campaign in the site's history," with 1,000 people signing per minute at its peak. As of early this week, the online petition had more than two million signatures, and counting.

On Tuesday, media released an "enhanced" higher resolution version of the surveillance video of Zimmerman after the shooting, which shows what appears to be some redness and bruising on the back of Zimmerman's head, leaving many to debate the extent of his injuries.


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