March for Trayvon Martin hopes to spark dialogue on race in central New York

Apr 2, 2012

One month after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, rallies across the nation have continued to call for the prosecution of the shooter, George Zimmerman. Three young Central New York women organized a silent march of nearly one thousand people through downtown Syracuse on Friday evening.

The event echoed many sentiments of a similar gathering at Syracuse University earlier this week. But for 4th District Common Councilor Khalid Bey, a defining characteristic of this rally was the diversity of its participants.

"For those communities who might be separate from one another and never really have the opportunity to experience one another, this was a unique moment for that to happen," Bey said. 

The death of Trayvon Martin taps into deep-seated concerns in the African American community regarding racial profiling and discrimination.

"You have some young people who saw it as an excellent opportunity to talk about some local injustices and promote the need for peace... not just between the protectors and servers of our city but also even amongst the people within the communities," Bey said. 

Among these local injustices, Bey counts the case of Chuniece Patterson, a 21-year-old African American woman who was denied medical attention during a stay at the Onondaga County Justice Center in 2009. After 14 hours of pain,Petterson was found dead in her cell due to an ectopic pregnancy in her fallopian tube.

"There were many other examples of those kinds of injustices, but even when you consider the many people who are mistaken, unfortunately, for drug dealers or for gang members simply by the way they dress," Bey said. 

Tim Eatman brought his daughter Jazmin and four of her friends to the march. A professor at Syracuse University, Dr.Eatman strikes a commanding presence, with long dreadlocks reaching down his back.

"You see me, my hair is white...anywhere I go in this society, I can expect to have some sort of negative interaction. It doesn't matter that I have a PhD," said Eatman. "We've been having these conversations, particularly in African American communities, for a long time. But the real thing to be sorry about and to do something about is the social system."

Professor Eatman says one factor in the criminalization of men of color was the federal government's 'War on Drugs,' which focused on predominantly African American urban centers. He remembered a book, "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander, that gave evidence that drugs are no less prevalent in white suburban communities.

Community activist Alfonso Jones believes these issues should have been brought to the public eye years ago.

"It's a powder keg, and it's just kind of waiting to explode. If we don't embrace and have this dialogue, we will be dealing with an explosion that I don't think anyone wants to deal with," Jones said. "There are Trayvon Martins all over the city of Syracuse," he said.

Jones says that although Trayvon Martin's death was a tragedy, it has provided a way to open this dialogue in Central New York and across the country.