Ahmad Abuznaid is an attorney in Florida, and the Legal & Policy Director for The Dream Defenders, a non-profit organization intent on ending the systemic criminalization of communities of color.
Contrary to the weather report, there’s no sun shining in the sunshine state today. One of our own has been gunned down and brushed to the side by those who were sworn to protect him. We have witnessed a jury of “our peers” arrive at a verdict that they regard as “just” in acquitting George Zimmerman of all charges in the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old boy.
Many legal pundits will debate whether it was a lack of evidence, a weak prosecuting team, or even Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, when in reality, the deciding factor in the case was the “might is right” doctrine. To put it simply, George Zimmerman had the gun, so he won. While the court of law has its standards, we the people have a more appropriate set of standards. In our code of humanity, a person will not profile, intimidate, attack or kill one of our children without punishment, and for our society to allow anything else is uncivilized. Black and brown youth have been disproportionately affected for far too long by racial profiling, stand your ground laws, and zero tolerance policies.
Ashamedly, we are accustomed to this sort of tragedy in Florida; we have all seen it before. My first exposure to this system of injustice was in 2006 when Martin Lee Anderson was murdered in a juvenile bootcamp at the age of 14, only for the world to be told that he died as a result of sickle cell anemia. The subsequently released surveillance tapes revealed the truth, the guards pummeling young Martin Lee Anderson to death, while a nurse watched. Back then, we were students at Florida State University, Florida A&M University & Tallahassee Community College reacting to the incident. We united to do something about the injustice and we enjoyed some short-term success by shutting down Florida juvenile bootcamps. Then we each went on our way. It has been about seven years since Martin Lee Anderson brought us together and we have learned a great deal since that time. We have continued to see injustice and the result is that we are no longer reacting but are fighting back.
In cities all across the nation, youth are heeding the call to action. They are tired of spending summer days at the beach, at theme parks, or at a local nightclub. On July 14th, two hours after George Zimmerman was found ‘not guilty’, over 300 students and community members in Tallahassee gathered at the state capitol to protest the verdict. They are galvanizing across college campuses and within communities and on Tuesday, July 16th, we will take the Florida Capitol.
We are demanding justice not only in the name of Trayvon Martin, but also in the name of every young person who has been and/or will be profiled, marginalized, and criminalized under the current system. We will work to educate, organize, and mobilize this generation. They are ready. We will never forget his name, nor the anger we have felt since he was taken from us. Be the power.