Tucson for Trayvon vigil speakers hope to spark change
Saturday morning, about 100 people gathered in El Presidio Park for a day of action in honor of Trayvon Martin. The event, organized by the University of Arizona Black Student Union, was one of hundreds of National Action Network vigils planned to take place throughout the nation.
A week prior, George Zimmerman was found not guilty by a Florida jury in the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The case was controversial from the beginning, raising questions about everything from the role of race in society and the judicial system to the purpose of “stand your ground” self-defense laws.
'We have to look out for people because injustice is still very much alive.'
In response to the verdict, the NAACP launched a petition urging the federal government to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman.
Donna Liggins, president of the NAACP Tucson branch, was happy with the turnout for Saturday's vigil. She said she hopes the case opens young people's eyes to the injustices that happen not only nationally, but locally as well.
“We have youth here that need to understand that they need to be careful,” said Liggins. “We know these laws as older people, but all the children seem to think because they can go anywhere, have their friends, that everything is okay. But everything is not okay. They have to be aware of things that are happening and be prepared. We have to look out for people because injustice is still very much alive.”
Native Tucsonan Tanisha Price-Johnson, the director of admissions at the UA College of Medicine, attended the vigil with her young nephew, Savion Bullock. For her, the story of Trayvon Martin hit too close to home.
“It impacted me in a way that was very personal because I knew that could be (my nephew),” said Price-Johnson. “I don’t want him to grow up in a society or in a world where he has to be fearful of just being himself. It was difficult to hear the verdict. I had to make sure to remove any feelings of anger and disappointment, and try to make a positive contribution to work toward something that will improve what the future of his life may be.”
Although black children make up only 7 percent of the student body in the Tucson Unified School District, they comprised 11 percent of suspensions and 33 percent of expulsions last year. These students are usually referred to disciplinary schools that lack adequate educational services, according to flyers handed out at the event by the ACLU Foundation of Arizona.
“Injustice happens here as well,” said Monterris Goshay, founder of Raw Ministries. "There are many other cases that happen right here in Tucson that the nation doesn’t have their eyes on.”
During the vigil, many speakers encouraged the crowd to work to repeal “stand your ground” laws.
“When you look at the stand your ground law on a national level, we’ve seen that it has largely been unfavorable to people of color,” said Beverly Makhubele, a senior at the UA and member of UABSU.
“There’s been an astronomical number of Latinos and black people who have fallen victim, and the people who perpetrate these laws hide behind ‘stand your ground’ and similar self-defense laws. If the law does not facilitate us, if it’s not fair to us, then we cannot continue to support laws of this nature,” she said.
Makhubele, Liggins, Goshay, and otheres who worked to organize the vigil don’t want the community’s efforts to be lost with the end of the day. They hope that Trayvon Martin’s death can be one of many others that will inspire people to demand change.
“One of the objectives today is we don’t want it to stop here. A lot of times we see people get enraged and angry about things like this and then it just sort of dies down,” said Makhubele.
“We didn’t want that to be the case because there comes a time when you really need to be tired and take action. We want continued, substantial, significant action from the Tucson community.”