This weekend was a wakeup call. No, scratch that. It was a 5-alarm blaze in the middle of the night that should have sent everyone running to organize, mobilize and work for change. For my generation and those after me, I hope it serves as a notice that we can no longer get away with sitting on the sidelines. Our parents, grandparents and ancestors fought tirelessly for change, and we cannot and will not allow society to be pushed back to a time when a young Black boy can be killed without any repercussions.
Trayvon Martin was on his way home. Trayvon Martin went to a 7-Eleven to get Skittles and an iced tea. Trayvon Martin had just turned 17. And Trayvon Martin died that night for no reason. People are angry, frustrated, upset – and rightfully so. This is a national travesty, a national tragedy and a national disgrace. And the only resolution is a movement supported by young people everywhere. It needs our participation. And since it is our future, we might want to start shaping how we want it to be.
Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network (NAN) and I are calling on people to rally in front of their federal courthouses in 100 cities across the country at high noon this Saturday, July 20. The Justice Department began looking into this case last year, but suspended its investigation pending the state’s trial. Now we must urge them to reopen their investigation into whether Trayvon Martin’s civil rights were violated. Together, we will send a collective message that the criminal justice system must be changed so that Black children will not be treated like second-class citizens. Their lives matter; our lives matter. And we need to speak in unison NOW. People like to dismiss rallies and marches by saying things like “They don’t really do anything anymore,” or “There’s no point in 2013 to protest.” Oh, really? Well, it’s grassroots activism that is finally bringing oversight to the NYPD here in the Big Apple. Over 60,000 people marched down Fifth Avenue to Mayor Bloomberg’s home on Father’s Day in 2012 as they protested the discriminatory practice of “stop & frisk.” Tens of thousands also signed petitions. People demonstrated again and again around the city, and throughout the country against racial profiling. And just a few weeks ago, the NYC Council passed two bills that will both bring in an Inspector General to oversee the NYPD, and also allow for an expansion of the definition of profiling. It’s a victory for civil rights, it’s a victory for the people, and it was brought about by people who sustained a movement.
Next month, NAN and Martin Luther King III will be holding a massive demonstration with others in Washington, D.C., as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On August 24, folks from around the country will join us for the “National Action to Realize the Dream” rally as we march and protest for voting rights, jobs, quality education and of course civil rights. The injustice we suffered with both the death of Trayvon and the ruling this weekend will be a central theme, as will the Supreme Court’s recent decision to turn back the clock on voter equality. If you’re tired of watching blatant discrimination take place during our time, get to D.C. If you’re tired of seeing our kids’ lives treated as if they don’t matter, make sure you’re in D.C. And if you’re tired of seeing the raping of our rights happen before our eyes, make sure you get to D.C.
This weekend I struggled with what to tell my 14-year-old son Tarique. Like many parents of color, I’ve warned him of the added dangers young Black men face in this country, like being prejudged, profiled, searched and more. I taught him how to conduct himself around police so that he doesn’t somehow “scare them.” I had to warn him that there are some police officers that will target him just because of the way he walks down the street or stands in front of his own home. But what in the world do I tell him now after young Trayvon’s death, and after the Zimmerman verdict? Do we warn our children that anyone who views them as a threat can do whatever they want? As mothers, parents, sisters and loved ones, all of us need to do something about this miscarriage of justice because it impacts everyone in a very real way. The time for being lazy or making excuses is over. We need to take positive action without delay.
On Sunday, there were multiple protests against the Zimmerman verdict around the country. I am proud to say that they were overwhelmingly peaceful, with people of all racial/ethnic backgrounds rallying together. Now we must continue that momentum. It begins with demonstrations this Saturday in front of federal courthouses as we push for a reopening of the federal investigation. And it continues as we gather once again on the great lawn of the National Mall just as they gathered 50 years ago when fighting for truth, justice and freedom. That’s the only way we shall overcome.