By AMANDA BEAM
Storms erupting overhead Sunday night caught a group by surprise that had gathered to support a Florida family at the center of a murder trial that placed the issues of race relations and self defense in the national spotlight. The same could be said about the jury’s verdict.
As thunder clapped and rain pounded — forcing the group to seek shelter under an awning at the Clark County Courthouse — about 50 people voiced support for the family of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teen who was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February 2012. The acquittal of Zimmerman on Saturday in Martin’s shooting death sparked rallies and demonstrations across the country.
On Sunday night in Jeffersonville, many in the group wore rain-soaked hooded sweatshirts — the clothing that Martin was wearing at the time of his death which served as a rallying symbol for Martin supporters — and took a stand against a decision that they deemed unjust and surprising.
Before the gathering moved to the sanctuary of Indiana Avenue Christian Church, Wanda Brown sat on the courthouse steps and empathized with Martin’s parents. Change and a feeling of stagnancy with racial issues in America were at the forefront of her thoughts, too.
“America has a long way to go. I marched in the South as a little kid in Birmingham, Ala., with [Martin Luther King Jr.] and we still have these problems today,” said Brown, Jeffersonville, who also has lost a child. “One day we will overcome. But we haven’t yet. We haven’t yet.”
From an early age, Brown listened to her grandmother talk about the things she wanted out of life, like a chance for a good home, a nice education and a safe community. Brown’s grandmother questioned why she should ever be treated differently just because the color of her skin.
In light of recent events, that question still reverberates with many in the black community.
Jeffersonville resident Andrew Williams also attended the rally to voice support and urge awareness. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to be done with the current case, he said.
“A young man is dead. The trial is over. The final outcome was disappointing,” Williams said while standing by his own stepson, a hoodie--clad teen about the same age and build as Martin at the time of the shooting.
“But still this is a show of support,” Williams added. “And so this is an awakening for us as a community. We need to be aware of how our kids have been handled. We have a lot to do in terms of keeping our black young men aware of circumstances.”
Racism is familiar to Williams, a black man who was raised during the 1950s in Kentucky. Eventually, he learned to deal with “those things.” He continues to see a racial undercurrent in America today.
“We deserve to be treated equal as anyone else. We do not deserve to be mishandled by the law enforcement system or the judicial system. But that kind of equality is more idealistic than a reality,” Williams said. “That’s how things are. And we’ll continue to protest and speak out and to do what’s necessary to bring some real justice. There’s man’s justice and there’s spiritual justice. We shall see.”
Leading a prayer vigil at his church on Indiana Avenue, the Rev. Drumondo L. Simpson, the church’s pastor, echoed Williams’ sentiments on spirituality. Among the stained glass windows of the sanctuary, men and women of different colors held hands and joined together in prayer.
God’s word, he said after the rally, tells his followers that they should obey the laws of the land. Still he thinks the laws such as those used in deciding the Zimmerman case aren’t necessarily the problem. It’s the way some manipulate the outcome of the laws to their favor is what he has an issue with.
“In the judgment of legal work, his verdict was legal. But what the everyday person is looking at is the act,” Simpson said. “The court of law is different sometimes than common sense.”
In addition, Simpson commended Jeffersonville resident Candace Crawford for organizing the impromptu event.
“I commend Candace for even wanting to do it because she’s not an African-American. And she sees the importance of us coming together,” he said. “That’s how you build communities by people coming together, not people being divided.”
With her two small children by her side, Crawford talked about why she planned the rally. The verdict, to her, wasn’t right.
And while she fears the white community might judge her negatively for these actions, she hopes to continue to raise awareness in Jeffersonville through other events for what she sees as a social injustice.
“The justice system works in different ways for different people, and I don’t believe that is fair. I believe it is supposed to be a blind justice system that should work the same for everyone,” she said. “[The death of Martin] makes you want to hug your children tighter at night and keep an eye on them and let them know the world is crazy. It really is crazy.”