Friday, April 6, 2012

Justice for Trayvon Means Institutional Change

The death of Trayvon Martin is a critical moment for America to send a clear message about where it stands on gun violence in general and the use of deadly force on Black men in particular. The emotional response from the nation in response to the fact that George Zimmerman has been able to walk freely for more than a month has been warranted and necessary, but as the coverage continues, I worry that those most concerned with justice for Trayvon will get side-tracked on issues peripheral to the situation. If we are to make certain that young Black men are not continually targeted as dangerous suspects, then there are large scale changes that must be made in the area of law enforcement that will require the focused channeling of all of our collective political and cultural cache. I would urge those at the forefront of the Justice for Trayvon movement to consider the story of Megan Kanka as they strategize and think of ways to prevent repeat Trayvon tragedies.

Megan Kanka was a seven year-old girl living in New Jersey who was raped and killed by a child predator who lived across the street. In the aftermath of their devastating loss, the Kanka family successfully fought to pass legislation that required communities to be notified when known sex offenders moved into the neighborhood. The law that was passed in the New Jersey legislature in 1994 became federal law in 1996 requiring states to develop a process by which communities be notified when a sex offender was released into the area. The Kanka case brought a heightened awareness to this type of crime to the point where we now have a regularly viewed show like To Catch A Predator on TV. In the case of Trayvon Martin, the Florida Stand Your Ground law has come under fire for being written in such a vague fashion, that it allows for there to be argument over whether or not the actions of George Zimmerman warrant him being in custody or not. It would stand to reason that amending this law would be at the top of the Justice for Trayvon goal list.

The authors of the Florida's Stand Your Ground Law, Senator Durrell Peadon and Representative Dennis Baxley, have stated on a number of outlets that the INTENT of their law is not to provide protection for people like Mr. Zimmerman who willfully pursue and attack innocent citizens, however the LETTER of their law apparently is not specific enough. I hope that at some point in the near future, the Seminole County Branch of the NAACP (Sanford is located in Seminole Co.), the national office of the NAACP, the National Action Network, and any other concerned parties would start to exert pressure on the Stand Your Ground authors in addition to Congressman John Fica since Sanford is in his jurisdiction in order to get the law amended. This would be a tangible first step in reversing the trend of putting law enforcement in the hands of citizens, and might provide momentum for tougher gun laws to be enacted. In the same way that many states mimicked Florida's law in the first place, then it should reason that they would change their laws accordingly given the amount of press that the case has generated. In this way, public sentiment and media work together to form a formidable force for change. When I see Toure getting into verbal slap box matches with Piers Morgan about the toughness of an interview, then I shake my head because I can already see that the effort has become distracted and is more about who can get in front of the camera fastest and most often. Justice for Trayvon has nothing to do promoting individual brands and everything to do with focused, collective strategizing and executing. So while you're rocking that hoodie , take a moment to send an email, Tweet, Facebook message, etc to your favorite leader and ask what he or she is doing to help move the justice for Trayvon initiative forward. We cannot be okay with a society that allows for young men of color to be hunted like game without consequence.

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