Union Square rally exposes public tensions with police
When Sybrina Fulton, proclaimed, “our son is your son,” to the crowd of protestors in Manhattan’s Union Square, she was speaking to the parents in the audience, she was speaking to humanity. Fulton and her ex-husband Travis Martin traveled to New York City from Sanford, Florida where their son, Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot dead on February 26th by George Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watchman.
The Million Hoodie March, the rally held in response to the recent murder of the Florida teen displayed the growing frustration among New York City residents, many still angered by the police murders of young men such as Sean Bell, 23 and Bronx teen, Ramarley Graham, 18. Like Martin, both young men were unarmed. And in both instances, police went unpunished. Zimmerman, an armed civilian, who claimed self-defense, still remains free. Sanford police continue to come under fire for a series of miscues such as the delayed release of the 911 recordings, correcting a witness’ account of the shooting, sending a narcotics officer to a homicide, and failing to test the shooter for drugs and alcohol.
Among the many protesters were parents with their children, hoping to use the rally as an opportunity to discuss the difficult topics of race and police brutality. Shawn Smith, arrived early with his family Kai, Ariel, and Shawn, each displaying signs made of skittles in honor of Trayvon Smith who was shot after purchasing the popular candy at a nearby store. When asked how he felt about Martin’s death, Kai responded by saying, “it isn’t fair what happened to him. We all need to know freedom.” Shawn Smith agrees, and plans to use the death of Martin as a platform to teach kids through an upcoming organization called City Kidz, where inner city youth learn about positivity.
The rally, which at 6pm was dominated mostly by media, police, and people fresh out of work, quickly swelled to larger numbers as groups of people of all ages and races showed up in hoodies to protest the death of Martin. Martin’s death not only sparked debate in homes but trickled into classrooms. Angel Gonzalez, 16, Joel Raymond, 14, and Joseph Fernandez, 16 learned about the death of Martin at school and were encouraged by their teacher to join in the protest.
Other protestors lamented about New York City’s “stop and frisk” program, which unlawfully seeks out, detains, and searches minorities. While Martin’s death occurred in Florida, many New Yorkers see it as an extension of the unjust police practices that use racial profiling as their basis for stopping crime. Winston, 39, a freelance photographer, stated that he’d never been stopped without cause by a police officer. After a brief pause, he said, “but I have by a security guard.” “Same thing, no?” he asked.
At times, the protest seemed a mix of disparate mini-rallies, many promoting candidates running for office. Some Occupy Wall Street (OWS) members resisted the initial swarm of Trayvon Martin supporter, even when their messages seemed to overlap in theme. Michael Pellagatti, 24, was front and center at Union Square. “I’m more interested in what is happening on Wall Street,” he said. He vowed to join the Martin protestors after he spent some more time with the OWS people.
Later in the evening, the rally moved westbound on 14th street, bringing traffic to a halt. There were areas where police tried to direct foot traffic onto the sidewalk, but to no avail, people pushed forward.