PEMBROKE — Hundreds of hooded students marched silently across the campus of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke on Wednesday to “demand justice” for Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer last month, an incident that has prompted conversations across the country about race.
The 17-year-old was shot dead on Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman as Martin was walking to his father’s fiancee’s home in Sanford, Fla. Martin, who was not armed, was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and carrying Skittles candy and a can of Arizona iced tea that he’d purchased at a nearby convenience store.
The UNCP chapter of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity organized the walk and a candlelight vigil to bring awareness of the case to the community.
“… This isn’t any type of rally,” said Lamar Courman, a senior at UNCP and outgoing president of Phi Beta Sigma. “It’s just a peaceful walk and it’s something that we want to show support for Trayvon’s family as they seek justice in this case, and to bring awareness to our campus, to let them know that just because it happened in Florida doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
About 350 students, most of whom were black, assembled at the water feature on campus and walked silently to the University Center. Most wore hooded sweatshirts. A similar event is planned for Friday at 6 p.m. at Luther Britt Park in Lumberton. Participants there are also being asked to wear hoodies.
Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, said he shot Martin, who was black, in self-defense. That night, Zimmerman called police to report a suspicious person and said he was following Martin, despite being told by a dispatcher not to follow him. Zimmerman has been questioned but not charged with a crime.
“He was pretty much murdered for looking suspicious in a neighborhood, and one of the reasons he was looking suspicious is because he was wearing a hoodie,” Courman said. “We want to let people know that it’s not a hoodie that makes someone suspicious.”
Outside the University Center, the crowd heard from Robert Canida, director of minority and multicultural affairs at UNCP. Canida began by asking the crowd, “Why are you here?”
“If you’re standing here for one night only, meaning that after tonight, next week or next month Trayvon Martin is just a memory — or more unfortunately, you say ‘Trayvon who?’ — then I’m concerned,” he said.
Canida asked the students to “take a stand for what is right and just,” quoting poet Ralph Waldo Emerson: “I’m invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”
“George Zimmerman refused to see Trayvon Martin,” Canida said. “… I need for all of us to stand for justice and not allow another young life to become an invisible death, because as (Martin Luther King Jr.) wrote, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”
High winds prevented the candlelight vigil; candles had been arranged to spell Martin’s initials. Canida’s speech still lit a fire among the students.
“I know this happens a lot in our community, and there are no people out there supporting the cause and trying to get the people who are at fault put behind bars,” said Maria Gilreath, a history major. “… It’s unfair. A lot of people get away (with crimes) and there’s so much evidence saying that he (Zimmerman) is in the wrong. I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of things we don’t know, but still, with all this evidence, he should be behind bars.”
Antoine Hardison, an animation and interactive design major, said he was moved when Canida urged students not to let Martin become “just another memory.”
“This is something that we should definitely continue to remember for all our days because something like this could always happen again,” Hardison said. “… It’s an inspiration to know that people who don’t even know someone actually care for the situation and care about that person.”
Shelby Newsome, a mass communications major, said the case has been the focus of many class discussions.
“It was recent but it wasn’t yesterday, so I feel like a lot more information is being added and a lot more people are paying attention to it,” she said. “… A lot of people are paying attention, but a lot of people may go off of what other people think. Everybody doesn’t know the true story of what happened except those two, so at the end of the day, people are just trying to get justice.”
Newsome said she was surprised by the high turnout.
“To see a lot of the Greeks from UNCP, and all the students come together and even faculty, was really cool,” she said.
After the assembly, the hood-clad crowd posed for photos. Courman called the event “beautiful.”
“When I saw everyone walking down the road … it was touching,” he said. “We’re not just trying to get just the minorities on campus to come out; we’re trying to get everyone to come out. We want to let everyone know that justice doesn’t have a color, and that in order to get the justice system to work together, we have to come together as a unit.”