Trayvon Martin is neither the present-day Emmett Till, nor is he the victim of an isolated phenomenon of injustice. Trayvon’s story is the manifestation of a flawed justice system deeply rooted in the disinterest of people of color.
After hearing the charges, I thought "He'll get manslaughter, at the very least"; a dead body and a confession should suffice. Yet, “not guilty” was the verdict. “Not guilty” symbolized more than letting a murderer back on the streets. “Not guilty” blatantly told Americans that the lives of Black and Brown youth hold little value. It sent the message that the justice system as a whole is acting against us and is failing us no differently than it did Lena Baker, Little Bobby Hutton, Mumia Abu-Jamal and many others whose names go unrecognized in history curriculum.
This disdain for our people and the miscarriage of justice is what led the Dream Defenders to the Florida State Capitol. I felt angry and heartbroken for the senseless loss of another Black life, but knew that I could not only rant on social media, but had to express that anger and sadness through legitimate, climate-changing action.
My mother did her best to protect me from the effects of being Black in America. Before living in the suburbs, I was not allowed to play outside because the neighborhood was underdeveloped and neglected, leaving it unfit for a child to roam. I always traveled to other counties for school because the schools for my zone lacked funding and basic resources. We relied on assistance from people outside by nuclear family, as my father was imprisoned for most of the first half of my life for nonviolent crimes. Systemic oppression plagued the lives of my family and closest friends. I have watched the criminal justice system and the cradle, military, and school-to-prison pipelines devour them. At the University of Florida, I studied criminology, which equipped me with an understanding of systemic inequalities and institutionalized racism. The classroom taught me to put names to oppression that I already knew very well.
My life of privilege and oppression destined me to be at a Dream Defender.
Being at the Capitol was an eye-opening experience. Governor Scott showed much contempt for issues concerning youth and people of color, so telling us to pray about our issues and avoiding us at the Capitol only fueled our cause. While occupying the Capitol, we did a number of meaningful things. We conducted a daily sit-in of Governor Scott’s office that included, workshops and relationship building. We authored “Trayvon’s Law," which calls for the repeal of Stand Your Ground, addresses racial profiling and abolishes the school-to-prison pipeline. We administered a “special session” for the People of Florida called the People’s Session that featured expert testimonies and lived experiences on issues related to this legislation, which seeks to dismantle the environment that created an opportunity for George Zimmerman to see a youth of color as a threat and lawfully take his life. Trayvon’s Law is about much more than this one incident. It seeks to change the environment that cultivates overt and covert racism, systemic oppression and vigilantism.
While occupying the Capitol, we succeeded in numerous ways. We pressured Speaker of the House, Will Weatherford, to call for a subcommittee to host hearings for Stand Your Ground in the fall, secured meetings with the heads of the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to discuss extreme “zero tolerance” school discipline policies, triggered a legislative poll, and gained the opportunity to discuss racial profiling policies with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Passing Trayvon’s Law is a win I look forward to. It is something the nation should also be looking forward to because these issues affect everyone. We who understand the magnitude of injustice and who these issues concern must unite.
The voices of the people most affected by faulty policies and fraudulent politicians need to be heard. If we want to see tangible change in the legislature, we must exercise our power through voting. That is why we have initiated a massive voter registration drive to register 61,550 voters, the number by which Rick Scott won in 2010. This next step is crucial to creating change. We need representatives who act in the interest of everyone, not one particular class of people.
Our movement is built on the legacy of those who came before us, and we have no intentions of stopping before victory is won. Our journey continues this week as we received an invitation to speak at the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the March on Washington on August 24th and August 28th. There we will begin to lay out our vision for a better future and join with thousands of others who believe, like us, that we will win.