OAKLAND, Calif. – Protesters, many wearing hoodies and carrying Skittles and cans of iced tea, gathered in front of City Hall March 26 to express solidarity with the family of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
Speakers made the link between the shooting of the unarmed Martin, an African American, by an armed neighborhood watch volunteer still at large, and the violence, including by police, that has taken the lives of many young black Oaklanders in recent years.
“We’re here to support justice for Trayvon. But it seems like yesterday I was standing here for Oscar Grant. And we’re still going through the same process, the same mistreatment, the same disenfranchisement and the same pain,” Matthew Graves, director of the Scotlan Center for Youth and Families, told the crowd.
Grant, also an unarmed young black man, was killed on a train platform by an area rapid transit policeman early on New Years’ Day 2009 .
“We’re still struggling for jobs as we were struggling then,” Graves said. “Don’t wait; create jobs! Don’t wait; create justice!”
Martin’s killing “shows me that all these past years we have come, our life is still meaningless to a lot of America’s population who are Caucasian. It shows that justice was not done,” a young black man told the crowd. “Everybody being out here gives me hope to see that justice is done.”
In a statement read by Morandon Henry, president of the NAACP’s Imani Youth Council, which sponsored the rally, U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, D-Calif., called for justice for the teen “gunned down because of the color of his skin.” Lee added, “Parents – African American parents especially – are encouraged that President Obama talked about this issue in a personal way.
“While this issue has shocked American culture, it hasn’t shocked me,” Lee said. “The combination of the powerful gun lobby, racial profiling, and hate crimes make this local matter one of national attention. Sanford could be anywhere.”
Attorney Ann Weills emphasized the urgency of white people working among other white people to combat racism.. “This is not a post-racial society,” she said. “When Barack Obama became president, the racism jumped out in a way we have not seen for decades.”
Weills called on rally participants to “stand together to reform our police, to make a society where everyone, every young child, is treated equally no matter what their skin color,” and to build opportunities and jobs for young people.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan emphasized the urgency of “knowing each other, and thinking of these children as our children – Latino children, African American children, or Cambodian kids – we have to learn not to be afraid of our own children.”
Calling Martin “an example of what the media has done to our young black boys,” City Councilmember Desley Brooks added, “It’s too often that young black men have issues simply walking outside their door. No parents should have to wonder, when their child goes to the grocery store, whether they’re going to come home safely.”
Standing beside the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists’ big banner after the rally, Carl Jones, president of CBTU’s northern California chapter, emphasized the urgency of expanding the job opportunities for local workers. CBTU is joining with the NAACP to combat violence and racial profiling, he said, and the area chapter is working for job creation in connection with local redevelopment and construction projects.
Imani Davis, high school student and secretary of the Imani Youth Council, said the council had voted on Saturday to hold the rally “because this also happens in our city. We wanted to help our city believe in justice again.”
Photo: At the rally, Oakland NAACP president George Holland (left) listening as Youth Council head Morandon Henry (right) reads Rep. Barbara Lee’s message. Marilyn Bechtel/PW.