Students in Hoodies: This is what Democracy Looks Like.


This entry was denied by the Huffington Post. So I just copied and pasted my entry.

I feel the need to apologize. I have been writing so much about Trayvon Martin in my own blog but it has taken me more than a week to calm down and address this audience without anger or frustration. As an Afro Latino, this issue hits home on so many levels.

I am very proud to be a Syracuse Alum and staff member. On March 26, I was even prouder. A group of students finally galvanized to action by having a rally on the steps of Hendrick’s Chapel on a cold Monday night. This is not just a black or white issue; this is an issue of justice. We stood in solitude with our hoodies on for Trayvon Martin.

As a person of color, I know that there are things that I should except, like the possibility being pulled over for no reason or being followed in a store. But nothing prepared me for this: a seventeen-year-old unarmed boy killed by a self appointed neighborhood watch captain. Then, even more appalling, I hear that George Zimmerman claims “self-defense,” when the only items in Trayvon’s hoodie were  a pack of skittles and a bottle of ice tea.

Without mentioning the race or ethnicity of either person, anyone of us would just assume that the killer would be reprimanded, if not sent to jail.  It is only after realizing that Travyon is black and his killer is “white” Hispanic that questions are raised as to why Zimmerman has not spent a single minute in jail.  Let’s face it, had the shooter been a Black man he would have at least seen a few nights in jail despite Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law. Yet, this had become a black and white issue for so many of us. Is it because more Latinos are considering themselves white as seen in the 2010 Census?

Perhaps it speaks to the general ignorance that people like Geraldo Rivera have, who think that a hoodie automatically represents something sinister. Is there a general perception that all black men are trying to perpetuate themselves as gangsters by wearing such apparel? Sure, it is annoying to see men wear sagging jeans with no belts.  I consistently tell students to pull up their pants, but does that justify thinking the worst of them? Yet, it is ok for a self-appointed investigative reporter to make a blanket statement about how Trayvon’s hoodie is the reason for his death. Should he know that it was raining the night Trayvon was killed, making it a perfectly reasonable chose of attire? Or perhaps it speaks to his fear of Black people in general?

It was indeed a show of solidarity when more than 100 Syracuse University students, staff, of all races, came together in a peaceful rally chanting “this is what democracy looks like.” This goes far beyond the hoodie, far beyond Geraldo, and far beyond the increasing number of reports of this teenager’s past. This is about justice. This is about an unarmed kid being killed for looking suspicious. It resonates with these students because anyone of them could have been Trayvon Martin. What gets under many students’ skin is the media’s attempt to show “a different side” of this kid by painting him as a criminal, in an attempt to justify his murder. Is that what a black or Latino Male student has to think about when walking across the quad or walking in the streets of Syracuse on cold rainy night? He has to worry about every mistake he’s ever made as a child?

So what is next? We can rally and protest this issue until George Zimmerman is behind bars, but then what? Don Sawyer, director of the LSAMP program, gave one of the best suggestions during that rally.  He suggested that the only way to promote change is to mentor a younger person.  True change comes when people are willing to commit to change and spread it to others. It is not about what we wear or how we are perceived, it is what happens when this done.

We must be the change we are looking for. That change can begin start with mentoring a young student in need. That change can begin when we continue to fight injustice and not allow ourselves the complacency to believe that race does not matter. For as long as George Zimmerman remains free we will always be remind that we as Black/Latino men and women will always be judged for what we wear and assassinated later for our exercising our right to wear whatever we want.

So what does democracy look like? Is it college students rallying as the media kills Travyon Martin over and over again, promoting the insecurities  young Black kids already face? What does justice look like? I am not sure; perhaps the hoodie of the justice system is covering the eyes of those who are apparently “standing their ground”.

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