Protesters demanding justice and demonstrating outrage over the Florida acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer marched in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. In both cities, protesters were motivated by controversial police killings of black youths that have caused outrage in the African-American communities.
The UpTake reports from both protests:
Story for The UpTake By Jacob Wheeler
The Minneapolis Police Department was worried about Monday’s #HoodiesUpMN rally in Minneapolis, which was hastily organized in solidarity with slain 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and to protest a Florida jury’s Saturday acquittal of neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Martin on Feb. 26, 2012 in Sanford, Fla. The police wete so worried, in fact, that Chief Janee Harteau released a statement hours before the demonstration urging protesters to be “vocal not violent.”
Maybe the specter of thousands of African-Americans marching through the city’s financial district on a scorching summer evening — angry at Zimmerman’s vindication, angry at her department for shooting multiple bullets into local 22-year-old Terrance Franklin in May, angry at racial inequality and double standards across the nation — gave the cops reason to worry. After all, protests in New York and Los Angeles over the weekend resulted in the use of pepper spray and rubber bullets.
Would there be a riot in downtown Minneapolis?
Not at all.
It turned out that the protesters were there to reason, not to rage. The thousands of demonstrators — black, white, Asian, Native, young, old, hipsters and professors alike — who gathered in front of the Hennepin County Government Center were as peaceful as a grass-smoking hippies in a field. Speakers at the rally occasionally needed to repeat themselves, shouting their rhetorical battle cries twice before they got a crowd response.
Despite the serious circumstances, good humor punctuated the rally. Thirteen-year-old Madeline and 11-year-old Anya Rendon, who are African-American and Native-American, spoke of the pain and confusion of growing up bi-racial under the umbrella of both minorities. Anya wants to be a teacher when she grows up, but said she doesn’t know if she can do it “because of all the problems.” The crowd responded by cheering for her and chanting, “Yes you can! Yes you can!”
“This is what we need if we are going to fight for justice for our community,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds, a law school professor who directs the Community Justice Project. “When that (Florida) verdict came down, it was a wake-up call for many of us. As someone who studies the law and understands the law, I was shocked. The Trayvon Martin situation hopefully caused us to wake up from our slumber. It’s time to wake up!”
The #HoodiesUpMN rally — organized by MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, the Justice 4 Terrance Franklin Committee, Save the Kids, Idle No More and Occupy Homes MN — boasted a Who’s Who of activists, faith leaders, hip hop artists and leading voices from North Minneapolis — the city’s most economically depressed neighborhood. But rather than wish for vague or pie-in-the-sky solutions, speakers issued specific demands related to the Trayvon Martin and Terrance Franklin tragedies:
Make the U.S. Department of Justice invoke federal civil rights protections to pursue Zimmerman, and arrest the Minneapolis officer who shot Franklin and force the MPD to come clean with the details of the case, about which the department has been strangely silent.
After the 70-minute rally, demonstrators marched in a tight group through the streets of Minneapolis, which police courteously blocked off. Anchoring the mobile rally was a homemade cloth sign, which took up half the width of the street, that was painted with the message “Justice 4 Trayvon”.
Protesters chanted, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” and “No justice, no peace!” They played drums, and sang, and returned an hour later to the plaza between the Government Center and City Hall. There they briefly pointed at City Hall and called upon local government officials to arrest Franklin’s shooter.
Signs at the rally belied disappointment with the Zimmerman verdict, and fear that vigilantes will continue to have free reign of the streets and protection under Florida’s extreme “Stand Your Ground” law. Homemade signs held by two African-American boys asked the question, “Am I next?” One sign displayed Trayvon Martin’s baby face next to that of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Mississippi boy who was murdered in 1955 after allegedly looking at a white woman. The implication was clear: America is still fighting the same battle for racial equality that cost Till’s life 58 years ago.
One pithy placard dared to dream of a better future. “Imagine a world where GZ (George Zimmerman) dared to give him a ride home (instead of shoot him).”
Story for The UpTake by Tracey Pollock
Over 300 people marched for Justice for Trayvon Martin, Derek Williams and Darius Simmons Sunday evening. The march came on the heels of the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman who shot and killed Trayvon Martin a year and a half ago. The march was in solidarity with Trayvon Martin’s family, as well as with the families of two Milwaukee-area violence victims, Derek Williams and Darius Simmons.
The murder of Trayvon Martin sparked protests across the country since the unarmed teenager was shot by 29-year-old George Zimmerman in Florida. Zimmerman’s defense was the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, that he had the right to shoot Martin because he posed a threat.
Saturday evening the not guilty verdict came out, sparking national protests. But the Milwaukee protest was for Trayvon Martin, but also against what many believe is a system of injustice that impacts young men of color.
There have been two high profile cases in Milwaukee within the past two years that marchers connected to the Trayvon Martin case.
Derek Williams, young black father of three, died of respiratory problems in the back of a Milwaukee Police squad car, July 5, 2011. A squad-car video of his death was released to the public over a year after his death, causing months of protests to hold the Milwaukee Police accountable for a death many believed was their fault.
The officers involved in his arrest were cleared of any responsibility, even after a lengthy inquest process had recommended criminal charges for failure to render aid for three Milwaukee police officers. A federal investigation of the case led to no officers being criminally charged.
In the other case, Darius Simmons, a 13-year-old black boy, was shot several times by his neighbor John Spooner, a 75-year-old white man, on the south side of Milwaukee last summer. Spooner claimed that firearms had been stolen from his home and that the police had not responded adequately to the theft.
Spooner confronted Simmons on a day when the teenager had stayed home sick from school. Simmons was taking the trash out when Spooner confronted him, alleging that he had stolen the fire arms. Simmons denied the theft and continued walking towards the garbage can. Spooner than shot the boy several times in front of his mother who had come onto the porch to see what was going on.
Milwaukee police responded to the shooting by arresting Spooner, but then also detaining Darius Simmons’ mother, Patricia Larry, for an undetermined reason. Larry begged to go to the hospital to see her son, but police kept her in the back of a squad car while they searched her house for the weapons that Spooner alleged her son had stolen.
After the police had finished searching her house, not finding anything, the mother was allowed to go to the hospital but her son was already dead. Ms. Larry’s attorney, John Safran, referred to the search as a ransacking of her house.
The murder trial for Spooner began Monday at the Milwaukee County Courthouse.
Sunday’s protest march successfully shut down three busy intersections in downtown Milwaukee and went through the Bastille Day celebration in the Cathedral Square area. The response from the crowd was overwhelmingly positive as marchers took over the show for about 45 minutes at the busy festival.
The march lasted for about three hours, going from the inner North Side of the city, through downtown and back to the starting point in front of a Martin Luther King Jr. statue. At the end of the march, activists vowed to continue marching weekly against systematic injustice.