By Chaneé Patterson and Mechelle Hankerson
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Hundreds of citizens gathered at Virginia Commonwealth University last week for a demonstration in honor of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager whose killing has prompted a national debate over guns and self-defense laws.
The 17-year-old was shot and killed by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26.
Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense during a scuffle after he chased the youth through the gated community where Zimmerman lived and where Martin was staying with his father’s girlfriend. Zimmerman has not been arrested or charged in the shooting.
Thousands of people across the country have demanded justice in Martin’s case, with demonstrations taking place in Sanford, the teen’s hometown, and big cities like Chicago and Washington, as well as in Richmond.
Breonca and Brittni Trofort, twin sisters who attend VCU, said they were prompted to help organize the campus event because of their own experiences in their hometown, Miami.
“We have faced different times where we have been followed [and] we have been questioned,” Breonca Trofort said.
Brittni Trofort agreed: “I’m not going to say that I’d expect it to happen all the time, but the fact is that it did happen. I wasn’t surprised at all.”
Demonstrators gathered in the Commons Plaza on VCU’s Monroe Park campus wearing hoodies and holding “weapons” – Skittles and iced tea. That’s what Martin was wearing and carrying when he was shot.
Miracle Allums, one of the student organizers, said they planned to send the empty bags of Skittles and iced tea to the Sanford police with a note saying, “We surrender our weapons.”
In the national media, some commentators have raised racial overtones in the case: Martin was African American; Zimmerman is Hispanic.
Speakers at the VCU rally said that although race may have been a factor, the case is more about legal issues.
“We can say, ‘That could’ve been my brother, could’ve been my sister,’ ” said Jerry Solomon, another organizer. “But racial profiling [and] racial injustice happens to every culture.”
The demonstration featured speakers from a previous vigil that the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality held at the Richmond Burial Ground in Shockoe Bottom.
Phil Wilayto, a leader of the Defenders group, asked the crowd, “How much is a life worth?”
“We need to hold the people to account [that are] in support of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws,” Wilayto said.
Under the “Stand Your Ground” laws in Florida and 23 other states, people can use deadly force if they believe they are being threatened with “great bodily harm.”
“What we would really like is for the laws in Florida to be reassessed,” Allums said. “It sets a precedent for other states to follow.”
In Virginia, a similar law, better known as the Castle Doctrine, was introduced in the General Assembly. The House and Senate each passed a version of the legislation, but the measure failed because lawmakers couldn’t reach agreement on the exact wording.
Ray Tademy, a social psychologist and adjunct instructor at VCU, emceed the demonstration. He said the Martin case should prompt a re-examination of “Stand Your Ground” laws.
“To look at it from the perspective of race is a distraction – a red herring – and taking the eye off the ball,” Tademy said. “The reason this is a case is because of a law that allowed an individual to literally kill someone else, not be prosecuted and go home.”
This article was published by such CNS clients as Emporia News and The Commonwealth Times.