People across the nation have raised their voices to bemoan the lack of justice following the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. On the campus of Howard University, perhaps the world's best known HBCU, a group of students have come together to add their concerns to the conversation.
Courtney Scrubbs, a second year law student, has organized members of the University's graduate and undergraduate communities in an effort to bring further attention to what many consider to be the vigilante murder of an innocent teen. Scrubbs and others from the graduate community formed a new campus organization–Howard University Students for Justice—and began firing off ideas about how students could stand up for the slain teen. What they came up with was a six-point action plan which included an op-ed piece, social media campaign, a memorandum of law that looked at and responded to legal questions that surround the case, a research project addressing the controversial Stand Your Ground laws in other states and active participation in demonstrations and marches.
The group recently released "Do I Look Suspicious?”, a video starring males from the HU community dressed in dark hoodies similar to the one Martin wearing at the time of his death, in hopes that they will bring attention to the racial profiling that young Black males face every day. EBONY spoke with the members of the group, including Courtney Scrubbs, senior John Saulters, Alexa Bernard, a junior, and Howard Conday, a two-time alumnus of Howard, and discussed the video, the response and what Howard University Students for Justice plans to do next.
EBONY: What made you decide to put this video together?
Scrubbs: (First), we came up with the six-point campaign, but I suggested we do something to organize the people. Both the undergraduate and the graduate communities were planning to create a video so we merged the two concepts…The purpose of the video was to say "racial profiling is wrong". It is ridiculous to say what a person is going to do based off of what they are wearing or their ethnicity. We really want you to look at the people on the screen and ask yourself the question and be honest with your response. We want people to do some self-reflection about what their prejudices actually are. Do they look suspicious when they put the hood on their head? What about when they have the hood off? Is it really the article of clothing that creates that sentiment? We also want to give Black men an opportunity to respond intelligently to racial profiling, an experience most of the Black men I know have had.
Saulters: The point of the video was to show that you don’t know who someone is, just because they look foreign or different. You don’t know the person in the hood just because they have on a hood. An article of clothing isn’t a death sentence, or at least it shouldn’t be.:
EBONY: What has the reaction to the video been so far?
Scrubbs: The comments have been largely polarizing when it comes to race. Howard Conday says “America” twice (on the video), he doesn’t say “White America” or ‘Black America” but he says "America" twice which seems to have incited a number of comments. Surprisingly, we’ve also received a number of racial slurs and hate-filled responses. It seems that the video touched a nerve that it didn’t’ expressly mention. Some of the comments are 50 feet away from the actual point of the video. We understand the conversation is complex—the issue of racial profiling is complex. A lot of our comments are that stereotypes don’t come from the air—in certain circumstances, when people see Black men in a hoodie they think that some type of crime may be committed. We know that we are disproportionately highlighted when it comes to violent crime in the country. When people see this they say, “yeah, we are scared when we see you in a hood because of what we see every day.” We have to counteract that perception with facts and images that say something more positive. Today, I received a video response called “Hey Young Niggers at Howard- I Am George Zimmerman” but I haven’t approved it because that and comments like “All coons should die” are not adding to the discourse. They are meant to be hurtful and they are symbolic of the type of destructive mindsets we are working against. We don't want this video and its notoriety used as a platform for hatred.
Bernard: Everyone that I know loved it. It's been shared so greatly amongst the different forms of media. I am a strong advocator of awareness and I believe that the video helps to bring awareness to the different injustices occurring even within our country–letting people know that this treatment is going on… I've never lost anyone to unlawful violence, but I'm attending college to be a future educator… I am thinking about my future students. Trayvon could have been a student of mine. That would be an empty seat in my class. That's a child. That's my future. That's why I've been in the position I am in defending Trayvon Martin's justice.
EBONY: How do you think the video will make a difference in the movement to bring justice for Trayvon Martin?
Conday: I think the video will compel people to check their racial biases and prejudice. Trayvon Martin's death will show our generation the power we possess when we come together for a common cause. When we ignore race barriers and mobilize together, we can cause change.
Scrubbs: We wanted to put something out there to travel far and wide and start the discourse that we hoped would be helpful, that we hoped would be healthy. We didn’t want it to be a week- one -and -done and people would move on to something else. Another point of the video is to make sure people know that racial profiling is a reality in this country, there’s no question…We need to see that it is a present and real issue and we need to step away from it.
EBONY: What’s next for Howard Students for Justice?
Bernard: What's next depends on the next course of action of our judicial system. Whatever actions are taken, our next course of action will reflect that situation, our main action supporting justice for Trayvon.
Saulters: Hopefully people will keep up their efforts. But, ultimately we want to see the law amended. Every jurisdiction except D.C. has a self defense clause with protocol for handling the case, –we want to see "Stand Your Ground" amended because over the years it has evolved from protecting your property and person, to your neighbors property and safety, to feelings of “threat.” Who’s to say that it won’t transform to “I belong in this bar and this Black man doesn’t?”