On Friday April 6th, over a hundred people gathered at Hibernian Hall in Dudley Square for a town hall forum about the murder of Trayvon Martin, who was shot on February 26th, in Sanford, FL where he was visiting family. Martin’s killer, who has not been arrested by local police or charged with any crime, acknowledges that he accosted Martin and initiated the conflict in which he then shot Martin at point-blank range.
Martin was seventeen years old and African-American. His killer was well known to Sanford police for placing 911 calls to report the presence of black men in the area. The town hall forum in Dudley Square began with a teach-in about violence against black males in the United States. The evening was organized by the Blackstonian, a community news service for peoples of color in the Boston area.
“We call this an attack on black men and boys because it’s a reality,” explained Jamahrl Crawford. “If you are a black man or a boy, or you love one, you probably already know this.” In a detailed multimedia presentation, Crawford reviewed over fifty individual incidents, dating between 1997 and 2012, in which a black man or boy was murdered by police, vigilantes, or whites supremacists in the United States. The point, Crawford emphasized, is that Martin’s killing “is not an isolated incident.”
Among the cases was that of Patrick Dorismond, a 26-year-old Haitian man who was shot and killed by an undercover narcotics officer in New York City in 2000. The officer had petitioned Dorismond for drugs and Dorismond responded that he did not have drugs or know where they could be bought. An altercation ensued. “For defending himself against the stereotype that the undercover officer was projecting onto him, this man ended up dead,” Crawford summarized.
Crawford emphasized that the attack on black men and boys has not been restricted to the South or to rural parts of the United States. His presentation ended by detailing the cases of twenty-four black men killed or severely beaten by police in the greater Boston area since 1975. Documentation of all these cases will be posted online at blackstonian.com, Crawford said.
“Where do we go from here?” This was the question Cornell Mills took up following Crawford’s presentation. Mills directed the audience to legislation currently under consideration in Massachusetts.
The state legislature is currently considering a so-called “Stand your ground” law, which supporters sum up in this two-line jingle: “You have a right not to flee, wherever you have a right to be.” Similar laws have been passed in two dozen states, including Florida, where Sanford police have cited that state’s “Stand your ground” law as their reason for declining to arrest George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin. Even though Zimmerman left his vehicle expressly to pursue Martin, Florida law enforcement agencies have thus far construed Zimmerman’s subsequent shooting of Martin as an action protected by state law.
Since 2007, Massachusetts State Senator Stephen Brewer (D) has sponsored three versions of a bill that closely corresponds to this Florida statute. Despite lobbying by the National Rifle Association and the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, the first two versions of Senator Brewer’s bill were both defeated in committee. Senator Brewer’s latest effort, which is registered under the name, “an act relative to the common defense” (SB 661), is scheduled for a vote by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary on April 27.
The Blackstonian’s community forum will be followed by several public marches and demonstrations. On Saturday, April 7th, the day after the forum, a group marched from Ruggles Station to Dudley Square to promote awareness of Trayvon Martin’s case and the broader patterns of violence against black males in the United States. “Trayvon Martin has brought us all together,” said Brandi Artez, one of the march’s organizers. “We are starting a new civil rights movement.”
Artez also gave an eloquent response to Reverend Eugene Rivers, who, earlier in the town hall forum, had expressed his anger that “when the Trayvon Martin killing went down, I did not hear a lot from the Hispanic community.” Rivers referred to the fact that Zimmerman is Hispanic. “I am a black Latina,” Artez responded, “When people see me, they see a black. Don’t let anyone tell you that Latinos are not standing up for Trayvon Martin. We stand together.”
On Thursday, April 12th, a rally and march to the State House will begin at 11am at the Boston Common Bandstand.
Watch a video of the April 7th rally here.