Standing in Marion Square among about 100 people at Tuesday’s rally in support of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin was Nancy Briggs, a visitor from Atlanta.
Briggs said she’d just arrived on a vacation and happened to see, and join, a crowd forming. The Feb. 26 killing of the 17-year-old Martin affects many moms, Briggs said, adding that in her case, she has a 12-year-old son who physically resembles Martin.
Racial profiling led to Martin’s death in Sanford, Fla., and must be stopped, she said.
“When I saw his picture, I could see why people are so touched by the story,” Briggs said. “A lot of our children wear hoods, and they could easily be profiled because of hoods and baggy pants. My son could easily fall into that category.”
Briggs and many organizers and attendees of the rally said they hope events like Tuesday’s will focus attention on the problem of racial profiling.
The rally, sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, featured speakers for the Advancement of Colored People, featured speakers from the NAACP as well as some local lawmakers, ministers and private citizens.
Martin was killed by 28-year-old George Zimmerman, who was alone and armed while on a “neighborhood watch” patrol. Zimmerman has said he shot Martin in self-defense after being attacked, but many Martin supporters believe the killing was racially motivated.
Zimmerman is a white Hispanic man, and Martin was black. Florida officials cited the state’s “Stand Your Ground” statute that allows use of force to defend oneself when attacked. No arrest has been made.
Dot Scott, president of the NAACP Charleston chapter, said prior to the rally that she hoped it would help press federal, state and local officials in Florida to conduct fair and thorough investigations.
“There has not been true investigation. That should have happened long ago. Justice delayed is justice denied,” she said.
The rally also intends “to bring focus to some real problems we have here in Charleston,” Scott said, citing racial profiling by law enforcement and the controversial stand-your-ground laws.
At the rally, she said, “But for racial profiling, Trayvon Martin may not be dead, and we have a real problem with racial profiling right here in our state.”
In the audience, Tonya Parker of North Charleston also said Martin was a victim of racial profiling.
“Black males get judged by their skin color or the way they dress. It’s really sad, but it’s going on,” Parker said.
George Hopkins, a retired College of Charleston professor, who is white, said it’s very important that white people get involved in the quest for justice for Martin.
“It’s not just a black and white issue, it’s a human rights issue,” Hopkins said. He asked the crowd to consider whether the Florida tragedy would be perceived differently if the races of the central figures had been different.
“If a black male had shot and killed a 17-year-old white, do you think he would have been arrested? The question speaks for itself,” he said. “It’s been over a month now. How much more time do you need to investigate?”
He promised: “This case is not going away. We must all be vigilant.”
Rep. David Mack, D-Charleston, bluntly declared, “Trayvon was basically hunted down and killed because he was black.” But he urged the crowd, “Either we live together or get destroyed together.”
Charleston County Councilwoman Colleen Condon said she not only opposes stand-your-ground laws but also South Carolina’s law allowing people to use deadly force to defend their property or themselves.
“I don’t think we have the right to use a gun, even in our own homes,” she said. “I am saying that as a rape survivor.”
Sara Daise, a College of Charleston student and senior adviser to the Black Student Union, said the message sent by the Florida killing is, “Black life isn’t worth much.” But she said tragedies like this “will end only if we work together.”
Kathleen Rogers, executive director of the YWCA of Greater Charleston, said she hopes to fill the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge walking path with a “dramatic human chain” in a “Stand Against Racism” set for 3:30 p.m. April 27. The event is free and will include speakers, food and entertainment.
For information or to register, visit ywca.org/charlestonsc or call 722-1644.