August 22, 2013
By Charlene Muhammad
LAWT Contributing Writer
On August 17, Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin, and family attorney Benjamin Crump, led a community conversation on racial profiling at Steele Indian School Park’s Memorial Hall.
Attorney Charlene Tarver of the Tarver Law Group and Fatimah Halim, a community organizer, coordinated the program, which examined the systemic impact of racial bias and profiling on communities of color. The day’s highlights were a Q&A with Fulton, Crump, and Tarver, moderated by Halim, and a private reception hosted at a residence in Scottsdale.
The discussion is just one of many town hall meetings, rallies, or protests still occurring across the country since a Sanford, Florida jury of five White and one Hispanic women found George Zimmerman, not guilty of second degree murder charges on July 13.
Fulton said she feels the prosecutors did the best job they could and that everything rested in the jury’s hands. “They couldn’t understand or maybe they didn’t have the understanding of Trayvon’s point of view, which is very sad because they can’t take away certain facts: that he was unarmed, that he was a minor, that he was not committing any crime,” Fulton said.
“They have to live with some things, which is going to cause them problems with sleeping at night,” she added, as the audience exploded into applause.
Fulton and Crump also came to raise awareness about the Trayvon Martin Foundation and the Trayvon Martin Amendment, which would change Stand Your Ground Laws to prohibit people from profiling, following, and killing someone, and then claim they were standing their ground, Ms. Fulton explained to a host of concerned residents, lawyers, educators, activists, artists, politicians, and community and religious leaders.
Fulton shared that the ordeal has thrust her — a regular woman, with a regular income and a regular life — into a spotlight she nor her family have asked for and that no family would want. But, she will continue to fight because the Stand Your Ground law must be reversed, she said.
Her attorney said the people’s continued engagement in the Justice for Trayvon Martin movement is multi-layered and phenomenal, and the program reminded him of how the case impacted him early on.
“Everybody has a ‘Trayvon moment’ and the moment for me was when his father called me and the lawyers on the phone, trying to get me to represent them and I said you don’t need me because he killed him on the street. He was unarmed. Of course they’re going to arrest him,” Crump told this writer in a private interview.
“We really believed and that was the thing that was most heartbreaking because you allowed yourself to believe. You knew about the Oscar Grants. You knew about the the Emmett Tills, the Medgar Evers, but you wanted to believe. You thought in a post-racial society, with a Black president, with this evidence they’ve got to arrest him,” Crump continued.
Tarver urged the audience to get involved. “As lawyers, as business owners, as professionals, I think it is incumbent on us to begin to create a voice for Stand Your Ground and I think as long as we remain afraid to address it, it will never be dealt with,” Tarver stated.
A morning panel, moderated by Lasana Hotep, an educator and researcher, explored the criminal justice system and racial profiling’s impact on youth. Presenters included Judge Penny Willrich of the Phoenix School of Law, Alex Munoz, founder of Films By Youth, Rampage, a multi-platinum rap artist, and Ja’han Jones, a student activist.
“African American males are constantly subjected to powerlessness and that brings into question our personalities, the kind of people who we are. The acquittal of George Zimmerman brings into question America’s value of Black life,” Jones said. As a result, he’s spent the last few months trying to reconcile the value his mom assigns to him and the value America assigns to him. “There’s a formidable gap between worthless and priceless,” Jones added.
Munoz highlighted the role of arts on incarcerated youth. Most of the men he works with are Black or Latino he said, and filmmaking is just one of many tools society can use to empower them in a world that’s already determined their worth as zero, he offered.
An afternoon panel comprised of Crump, Dr. Ray Winbush of Morgan State University, Attorney Daniel Ortega of the Ortega Law Firm, and Tarver, highlighted the law and human rights through a historical lens.
There’s always been a restriction on the plain, old locomotion of Black men, and that is a 400 year old mentality, Dr. Winbush noted. He denounced society’s historical line that if Black males and females fight back against injustices, they are wrong. “Black men and boys when attacked do have a right to fight back,” he said, encouraging the audience to broaden their understanding of the criminal justice system, racial profiling, and their legal rights.
“Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere and if we allow one group to be subject to injustice, it applies to all,” Ortega said. He advocates a restructuring of police culture. “The only way we’re going to do it is if all of us fight together and challenge it together,” he continued.
Student Minister Charles Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 32 thought the program was much needed. “It was very inspiring to see Sybrina Fulton at the event and that actually capped the event with her spirit and her strength. Even though she’s mourning the death of her son, she’s inspiring people and letting them know it could happen to any one of us, especially youth,” he stated.