OU Garners Hoods, Support for Slain Teen
On Tuesday evening, over 250 hooded individuals gathered on College Green in a show of support for murdered Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
While walking through a gated community in Sanford, Fla., Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, has not been arrested for the shooting of Martin, who is African American. The incident has sparked a national debate on modern racism.
Sarah Williams, one of the organizers of the event and previous president of Students Teaching Against Racism in Society (STARS), said she first had the idea for a hoodie march on her way home from spring break.
“I was on Twitter and kept seeing tweets about Trayvon Martin. The more tweets I saw, the more pissed off I was,” she said. “To me this is blatant racism.”
Williams got together with student organizations to help plan the march. The rally began with a series of speakers; some were students and faculty members, or members from the community at large.
Molly Yanity, a Ph.D candidate from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, began the rally by stating upfront that she believes this incident is about race, and that the United States needs to confront the root of the problem.
Tyler Barton, a senior, agreed. “Despite our talk about social justice and all the self-congratulatory claims of our commitment to ‘inclusivity’ and the lip-service we pay to ‘diversity,’ there is a real-life everyday struggle between those with power in society and those without it; the privileged and the oppressed that is physically manifested in our social institutions,” he said.
Barton went on to say that anyone who is shocked by the murder of Martin and the nonchalant manner in which the investigation has been approached this far has simply not been paying attention.
“There is, after all, a preschool-to-prison pipeline, disproportionately exploiting black and brown men, that is intentionally designed to take in young boys and fast track them to felon status,” he said.
He continued by saying that these same men are relegated to an outside caste in society, without voting rights, and severely discriminated against in housing, education, employment and other social services.
Dr. Tehama Lopez, a professor of political science, elaborated on the concept of white privilege.
“White supremacy is an anti-egalitarian system in which those people categorized as white are over-represented in positions of power, are favored with opportunities, material wealth, status and other social and political goods, and whose feelings, thoughts, contributions and actual lives are typically treated as more important and valuable than people of color,” she said.
She described the Martin shooting as an example of institutional racism, adding, “This is not what I call a robust democracy; it is what I call mediocrity.”
Another OU professor, Dr. Akil Houston, talked about the media’s role in racism, saying, “One of the things we learn through media is that black life is not worth anything, particularly young black men.”
Dr. Houston commented on racist attitudes within society.
“We’ve replaced critical thinking with fear and paranoia, so much so that we don’t trust anyone who doesn’t look and think the exact same way we do,” he said.
Some speakers became emotional when addressing the crowd. Stephanie Sheeley, a student, said, “I know that sometimes in situations like this, I feel helpless, and I feel like there’s nothing we can do or there’s nothing I can do as an African American female with little to no money.”
She urged the attendees to gather together and to use their power in numbers.
“It’s important that we support one another so that we don’t feel helpless or defeated. Because it’s a really low place to feel,” she said.
After the speeches had been made, participants armed with banners and signs lined up to march down Park Place and Court Street, ending on Richland Avenue and shouting slogans such as “No justice, no peace!” and “Beat back the racist attack!”
Williams was pleased with the turnout and success of the event. Ultimately, she hope that actions like these around the country can lead to the prosecution of Zimmerman, who has yet to face any charges. She believes that racism is still alive and well in America.
“People like to sugarcoat it, but actually, racism never went away. It’s more subtle now, but its still here. But we have to be active to eradicate it,” she said.
“It’s really important that we go out to those who are not here and tell them why it’s important,” Sheeley added. “Show them why we need to fight for justice. Like Martin Luther King said, a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Everybody needs to be informed.”