Ralliers unleashed a volley of Skittles on the steps of the Justice Center Monday afternoon to express their outrage at the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of teenager Trayvon Martin. The 17-year-old Martin had bought a bag of Skittles from a nearby 7-Eleven before he was shot and killed by Zimmerman on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida.
On Monday, the candies were a symbolic protest — those gathered wanted the lawyers and judges of Northeast Ohio to see how they were literally stomping on the rights of (in this instance) black America.
Though Zimmerman's trial was also in Florida, local protesters invoked injustices closer to home to highlight ongoing prejudice.
One man's sign invited a comparison with the recently convicted Raymone Clements:
"American Justice: Black man shoots dog, gets 23 years; White man kills black teen, walks free."
Speakers proclaimed a laundry list of personal platforms —a lifetime NAACP member remembered Rodney King and urged universal respect; a young woman spoke with conviction about taking anger to the ballot; a teenaged boy donned a hoodie and likened himself to Trayvon Martin; a grandmother begged the crowd to pray for Trayvon's mother.
Clevelanders are all too familiar with the issues surrounding race and the justice system. They arrived forcefully in November 2012, when a horde of Cleveland Police officers opened fire on the unarmed Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. "137 Bullets" was one man's battle cry in the Monday sun.
Zimmerman's violence and the "excessive force" of Cleveland Police personnel may in fact be deeply interlinked. Esquire's Charles Pierce connected the dots in a persuasive blog post following Zimmerman's acquittal:
"We live now in a vigilante culture. Our police forces are militarized and increasingly prone to rogue operations in which innocent people get killed. They are being encouraged to employ what can only be called vigilante tactics under the color of official authority...
"On the streets, we are being trained paradoxically to both submit to the authority of the police, and to take the law into our own hands, if necessary, because the police cannot possibly protect us from every danger. Stand Your Ground, though it played no role in the Zimmerman trial per se, is vigilantism hallowed by legislation. That's all it is. This does nothing but produce a national schizophrenia about crime and fear and weaponry that we inevitably act out."
Though Monday's protest seemed to endorse change only in an abstract way, and presented what became a scattershot anti-authoritarian opposition — an extemporized decision to "boycott something" took most protesters by surprise — rage was the presiding sentiment.
Community Organizer Joel Solow would love to see protests like Monday's galvanize a cohesive movement to make real demands of the existing power structure and develop a strategy "for dealing with the misery and suffering we tolerate in this city."
Solow says he's "agnostic" about what direction the movement takes, but that strategy needs to start with something specific.
"Most closely relevant to Trayvon Martin would be something that addresses the lack of trust for the police department (which in turn, supports a culture of violence)," wrote Solow in an email. "And something that addresses the totally inadequate system of education and wraparound support for youth, which also perpetuates violence."
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