Local residents took to the streets en masse Tuesday to protest a Florida jury’s finding in the murder of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin.
Protests and vigils have cropped up nationwide since a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of the black teenager. Winston-Salem residents – more than 1,200 of them, according to organizers’ estimates – joined the growing chorus of unrest with a July 16 rally and vigil in remembrance of Martin at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and New Walkertown Road.
Via social media and other outlets, Wake Forest alumna Nicole Little and The Post-Trayvon Martin Committee for Justice and Redirection led the charge to take a stand locally against the verdict and legislation such as the Stand Your Ground Law that many believe allowed Zimmerman to go free.
“This hits home for me because I have three brothers, one of whom, God rest his soul, was also taken by gun violence,” Little told the massive crowd assembled around her. “This could have been any one of y’all, and that’s the message that we’re trying to stress today.”
The Zimmerman verdict also struck a chord with city resident Andrea Barnes.
“It’s something to have to worry about, the future of your kids, how they’re discriminated against, and whether the justice system is going to prevail for them or against them,” said Barnes, the mother of three young men. “The justice system is broken. It needs fixing.”
Larry Little, a Winston-Salem State University professor who is no relation to Nicole Little, likened Martin’s death to the brutal 1955 slaying of Emmett Till. The controversy that surrounded 14 year-old’s death – and the subsequent acquittal of his attackers – helped to spark the Civil Rights Movement, Little said, and Martin’s death could be the catalyst for a new revolution.
“Young people, this is your Emmett Till struggle – that’s what this is all about,” said the longtime activist and former member of the local Black Panther Party. “Trayvon wasn’t in the ‘hood. He was in a gated community, yet he wasn’t safe because he was black. He was profiled.”
City Council Member Derwin Montgomery, who represents the city’s East Ward, where the rally was held, encouraged attendees to keep making their voices heard.
“This is about making sure that we as a community – white, black, green or yellow – come together and say that we will not stand for any injustice or lives being taken for granted,” he said. “…This is our opportunity as a community to say that we stand for justice, we speak up for justice and we’ll make sure that this voice doesn’t stop here.”
Darryl Hunt, who spent 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, reminded the audience that what many see as a miscarriage of justice in the Zimmerman trial is far from being an isolated case. An inequitable legal system is to blame for the ruination of countless black lives, Hunt said, noting that Michael Vick received a harsher punishment for killing canines than Zimmerman received for killing Martin.
“Understand this: we’re in a time where we need to stick together and not ask for justice but demand it,” he declared. “We need to demand it in Raleigh, we need to demand it in Winston-Salem. If we don’t stand up and demand what’s right, they’re going to continue to kill us.”
Rev. Carlton Eversley, pastor of Dellabrook Presbyterian Church, took time before uttering the closing prayer to drive home the importance of protesting and fighting for justice and equality.
“There was not going to be a trial, there was not going to be any kind of review, until the people stood up,” he said of the Zimmerman case. “So give yourselves a hand for continuing the struggle.”
Ten year-old Jaylyn Robinson’s was one of many young faces in the crowd Tuesday.
“I wanted to come out because I’m supporting Trayvon Martin for his murder. I don’t think it’s fair for the black people getting murdered,” the rising sixth grader said. “It’s not fair for our justice system (to let that happen).”
Jaylyn’s mother, Shay Robinson, said she wanted her son to understand the gravity of the moment and to encourage him to stand up against injustice.
“Jaylyn needs to know where we are right now in his life. Once he’s in middle school and high school, he can look back and use this experience as a point of reference in his history books. He’ll remember his mother teaching him about the law, and teaching him who he is as a black man in America,” said Robinson, a customer service trainer for Aetna. “…He’s my Trayvon. I want him to be here at 18, 19, 20 years-old.”
Nicole Little, a graduate of Carver High School and longtime city resident, urged all those present to take action in advocating for changes to the justice system that could prevent another case like Martin’s.
“I’m challenging everybody here today to leave here saying ‘I need to do something,’” she said. “…If we take the social media presence and translate it to something physical, something that you can touch, we can make a difference in Winston-Salem and all across the United States.”
Union Baptist Church, 1200 Trade Street, will be hosting a Justice for Trayvon Rally on Saturday, July 20 at 11 a.m., followed by a peaceful protest march. For more information, visit unionbaptistwsnc.org.