More than 60 people stood in silence on the steps of the state Capitol Monday morning to protest the jury’s decision to clear George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
Some wore hoodies, as Martin did on the night he was fatally shot. Some held signs that expressed their outrage.
“Standing in grief with his mom,” read one. “March for Trayvon — justice now,” demanded another.
The silence stretched on for four minutes — the same amount of time it took Martin to bleed to death after he was shot, according to protest organizer Corrie Terry.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, was cleared of all charges Saturday in the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting of the unarmed black teenager in Sanford, Fla.
He wasn’t arrested for more than a month following the incident because police insisted that Florida’s “stand your ground” law on self-defense prohibited them from bringing charges. The law allows people to defend themselves — with deadly force if necessary — if they fear that someone intends to kill them or cause them bodily harm. Under Florida’s law, someone essentially does not have to attempt to retreat from an aggressor before taking deadly action.
Protesters at the Capitol on Monday demanded that justice be served and relayed their fears for their own children.
“We have enough of our own killing. We don’t need laws that justify continued killing of African-American males. It is wrong. There should be no more bloodshed in this country at the expense of African-American males,” Terry shouted into a bullhorn, after the period of silence had concluded. “We should all be very afraid because this man who makes a decision about who is scary and who is not scary has been given back his gun and given freedom.”
Winell Jones of Albany was brought to tears as she addressed those gathered on the steps, sharing her worries for her autistic son.
“If he’s accosted or someone grabs him, he wouldn’t know how to respond and I am deathly afraid that someone will take that as him being disorderly and just disobedient and someone could take his life,” she said. “I knew that I would have to protect my son but I didn’t know that I would have to protect my son by not allowing him to grow up and have the civil liberties that we are afforded by the United States Constitution. I understand that this constitution was not written for people who look like me but the amendments and the laws that [were enacted after] that constitution were supposed to protect me and my son and our future progeny.”
A 12-year-old boy in a hoodie stood at Monday’s protest holding a sign that read, “I am Trayvon.” His 10-year-old sister held one, too.
Their mother, Carol Hamilton of Latham, said she’s had to teach her children that they are judged by the color of their skin.
“You have to kind of go out of your way, above and beyond, like maybe you can’t wear a hoodie or maybe you have to be overly respectful or always respectful, so that if someone says ‘hold your hands up,’ you hold your hands up. Someone says ‘freeze,’ you freeze because there’s always a misunderstanding,” she said.
The protesters on the Capitol’s steps merged their voices to sing “Ella’s Song” by Bernice Johnson Reagon.
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes,” they sang.
The freedom yearned for at Monday’s gathering — freedom from racial profiling and the violence that sometimes results from it — won’t come without a mass movement, said activist and documentary filmmaker Ira McKinley of Albany, who was at Monday’s protest.
Film explores challenges
For the past three years, he has been working on a documentary titled “The Throwaways,” which explores the challenges facing black males in America, including mass incarceration and police violence.
McKinley said he was once beaten up by a police officer, and that his father was shot and killed by one.
The verdict in the Zimmerman case has him very upset. “To me it feels like it’s legal to shoot an African-American. I feel like it’s genocide, to tell you the truth. I feel like the system is set up not to succeed.”
He recalled a comment the co-producer of his documentary once made: “This is like America with three Ks.”
“That’s how some of us feel,” he said. “We’re scared to walk down the street at night. We’re scared that anytime you walk down and see police you’re going to get stopped and frisked.”
Deidre Hill Butler, associate professor of sociology and director of Africana Studies at Union College, called the verdict in the Zimmerman case shameful, but added that she was not surprised by it.
Florida’s “stand your ground” law is a troubling one, with racist undertones, she said.
“We have to have the courage to take the time to listen and then to act upon kind of reshaping policies and laws that are long-standing and imbedded in inequality and racial issues,” she said. “I believe that Trayvon Martin was put on trial, not George Zimmerman. The characteristic of being a young black male was on trial and the history that goes with that.”
Stereotypes helped to seal the verdict in the case, agreed Alice Green, executive director of The Center for Law and Justice in Albany.
“We think of particularly African-American males as inherently criminal and almost less than human and we react to them in that way,” she said.
Young people are having a hard time coming to terms with the verdict, she said.
“They were expecting a different result and so we have to listen to them. We have to help them understand how the system works, how racial profiling works, what the stereotypes are,” she said.
The center is putting finishing touches on a program based on the Zimmerman case, which will teach young people their legal rights and how to handle racially motivated confrontations, she said.