The ASI Diversity Center forum on the jury verdict of the Trayvon Martin murder case produced lively and informed discussion on Cal State East Bay's Hayward Campus. (Photo: Barry Zepel)
A Florida murder case has spurred conversations nationwide about race, discrimination and the law. At Cal State East Bay Thursday (July 18), a discussion organized by the Associated Students Inc. Diversity Center drew a crowd of about 20 who exchanged observations about the case and questions it raises about our society.
Given the Diversity Center’s commitment to social justice, its manager, Jonathan Stoll, organized an on-campus discussion about the recent legal case as a way to promote an active and meaningful current affairs dialogue. Those in attendance, including students and employees of diverse backgrounds, discussed a range of issues related to the case such as: racial discrimination, self-defense laws, culture and violence.
The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman took place on the night of Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla. Martin was a 17-year-old African American high school student. Zimmerman, 28, has been described as a mixed-race Hispanic. On July 13, a jury of six found Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder and of manslaughter charges.
At the Diversity Center, Stoll prefaced the conversation about the case by laying firm ground rules.
“However controversial or sensitive the subject matter, I think it’s important that we respect one another, that we speak one at a time and that we give everyone opportunities to speak,” he said. “This is a difficult dialogue. We’re exploring feelings and thoughts related to controversial topics.”
To get the discussion started, Stoll said that many observers of the court case categorized it as a racial issue. He asked the group what thoughts or feelings they have had toward that assumption.
“We’re not exactly in the place we like to pretend we are,” ASI Executive Director Randy Saffold said. He said our society isn’t ready to let go of all prejudices and that race discrimination was a factor in the case.
At protests of the recent verdict, some demonstrators have displayed “I am Trayvon” nametags, hoodies and posters. Social media sites have also spread use of the slogan.
“There are all these nametags people wear that say ‘I am Trayvon,’ but I’m not Trayvon,” Heather Harbeck, ASI Diversity Center graduate assistant said. “I can’t sympathize with those (racial) situations. I can’t tell you how it feels.”
Others in the audience expressed concern about legal issues raised by the Martin case.
“A lot of these state laws on self-defense are faulty,” said Halli Floyd, a Cal State East Bay sophomore. In this case, she said, self-defense was not an acceptable excuse for murder.
Following the July 13 verdict, protests broke out in cities across the country including Atlanta, Washington DC and New York City. Peaceful protests quickly turned into violent riots in Oakland and Los Angeles.
“Young folks’ anger is being misdirected,” Director of Student Life, Marguerite Hinrichs said. She theorized that the riots were an outlet for some African American youths to release pent up anger, adding that acting out in violence is a misguided way to air grievances.
In an interview with KTVU News July 16, Emeritus Professor of Sociology Terry Jones attributed a recent string of Oakland riots to political frustration on the part of some protestors.
“It may be that we’ve run the limit in terms of (peaceful) protest,” Jones said. He explained that protestors may feel they are lacking media attention and are finding alternatives ways to obtain it."
“Peace should always prevail,” said Ramon Aranda ’11, a recent sociology graduate. However, he acknowledged that the killing of Martin has led some people to commit violent acts.
Event organizer Stoll said the discussion overall was a success, which will lead to more discussions in the future.
“We’re trying to produce events like this that ultimately engage students and faculty in meaningful conversation,” Stoll said.
“The conversation did not start here and it will not end here,” he added. “Educating yourself is just as important as educating others.”
Visit the Diversity Center online for future event listings.