Students hold 'Hoodies for Trayvon' rally amid national calls to action

More than 100 students stood on the steps of Hendricks Chapel to show support for Trayvon Martin, a slain Florida teenager.

More than 100 students and faculty shivered through Monday night's windy 30-degree weather in hooded sweatshirts to rally on the quad in support of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17 year old who was shot and killed a month ago by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla.

Martin was shot and killed on Feb. 26 by Zimmerman, who has said he was acting in self-defense. A month after the shooting, Martin's parents demanded police release the 911 tapes from that night. They also later asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the FBI to get involved in the investigation. On Monday, police said Zimmerman told the parents Martin knocked him down with a punch to the nose, repeatedly slammed his head on the ground and tried to take his gun. It was also confirmed Monday that Martin had been suspended from school for 10 days for possession of marijuana in mid-February.

Photo: Veronica Magan
Handmade signs conveyed messages of justice and racial disparities.

The case has prompted scrutiny of national "stand your ground" laws that permit deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat. Rallies and marches across the country have protested the police's failure to arrest Zimmerman. The rally at Syracuse University on Monday coincided with many national events, including one in Sanford.

After seeing the impact of the Million Hoodie March in New York City on Thursday, political science doctoral candidate and co-event organizer Keneshia Grant began wearing her own hoodie on campus last week--despite the unusual 70-degree heat--only to receive confused stares from many on campus.

"I walked around with a sign, and that still didn't help," said Grant. "So, I thought it would be a good idea to put something together to inform the students of Syracuse University about what was happening and to challenge them to rethink their ideas about race."

Political science junior Gregory Alexander, the other principal organizer of the event, was touched by the swift response he received when he reached out to other student leaders over the past few days. Large outpourings of support like tonight’s gathering at SU is precisely what will make the difference in the Martin case, Alexander said.

"We live in the Unites States of America where the judicial process should work for everyone, and it's not working right now for Trayvon Martin and his family," he said. "We need to bring awareness to this stuation and we need to urge people to take that charge beyond just this place and just this campus."

One of several individuals who spoke at the event, Don Sawyer, director of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation at SU, echoed this sentiment. He encouraged the SU community to go beyond treating Martin "as just another cause célèbre."

“We like to deal with symbols, and so it’s cool for people to wear hoodies, Sawyer said. "It’s cool for people to take pictures of themselves in hoodies but that’s not action. I think we need to move beyond the symbolism and get into the movement.”

One way he suggested SU faculty and students could do this is through mentoring young black children like Martin.

Communication and rhetorical studies senior Brandon Haye also spoke at the event. Haye said he has had several bad encounters with law enforcement and was happy that this case is “catching heat.”

Haye described a scary encounter in his hometown of Rochester when he was arrested for jaywalking during his senior year of high school.

“They tried to claim I looked like a suspect for a robbery,” he said.

The event ended with a moment of silence with many eager to continue the discussion about Trayvon.

"I think it's only right we speak out," Haye said, "considering this happens everyday."

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