By Scott Calzolaio
The Multicultural Center sponsored another Diversity Dialogue on Wednesday in the Alumni Room. The conversation followed the theme of Black History Month, and the topic was the Trayvon Martin versus George Zimmerman case.
The infamous case involving the Stand Your Ground law occurred in Sanford, Fla. on Feb. 27, 2012, when 17-year-old African American Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by white-Hispanic neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman. After a long, heated trial charged with accusations of extreme racism, Zimmerman was found not guilty on all counts due to a self-defense plea. This Diversity Dialogue took place on the case’s two year anniversary.
The three panelists – Sociology Professors Daisy Ball and Xavier Guadalupe-Dias and Director of the Multicultural Center Kathy Martinez – first laid down some simple debate rules, then led the discussion through a slideshow presentation of charts and graphs focusing on several racially-charged topics, as well as news footage from CNN about the case itself.
The opening slides touched on the background of Sanford, Fla., which is “riddled with racism,” according to Ball, tracing back to African American Dodgers hall of famer Jackie Robinson, when he was scheduled for Spring training there.
“Members of the KKK were there to greet him, so to speak,” said Ball. “He attempted to make it out onto the field to his teammates, and was eventually run out of town.”
Five years later, Harry Tyson Moore and his wife Harriette Vyda Simms Moore were brutally murdered in their home in Sanford on the couple’s anniversary, which shared the date with Christmas. It was firebombed by the KKK because of Mr. Moore’s deep involvement with the Florida NAACP, and his influence on the African American voting demographic in Florida. Mr. Moore raised black voter registration to 31 percent, higher than any other southern state.
“There is no trust, no confidence between African Americans and Sanford authorities,” said Ball. “It’s at an all time low.”
Between slides, panelists opened up the [oor to the audience after presenting a topic for discussion. The first topic focused on the stained history of Sanford.
“How might this be relevant to the Trayvon Martin case?” asked Ball. The question sparked interest in the audience, as opinions on the case were spoken liberally, and largely undebated.
“It’s apparent that there’s this pattern of white supremacy in Sanford,” said one student speaker. “It’s surprising that over all of this time there hasn’t been any change, there hasn't been any repercussions and the first major outcry of the nation to say ‘This isn’t OK,’ was the Trayvon Martin case.”
Another student said, “Now that you actually explained that, I know that George Zimmerman probably felt comfortable doing what he did. I don’t think he would have done that if it was in another area. I know, especially since where I am from, that law enforcers might try to do something just because they feel like they have the authority. I feel that George Zimmerman used that ‘badge’ in a more personal way.”
The presentation then shifted to the politics of Florida statute and Stand Your Ground laws. Florida was the first state to pass a Stand Your Ground law, quickly followed by almost two dozen others.
“The idea of Stand Your Ground was great,” said Dias. “This is an extension of self-defense. This extension removed some of [the] right to retreat and that you could actually use deadly force.”
The second open discussion question was on the topic of these controversial laws.
“Feeling threatened is very different from actually being threatened,” said one student, “and since there’s a history of mistrust, people are likely to feel threatened unjustifiably. If they can take that unjustifiable fear and kill someone because of it, I think that’s a huge problem.”
Another speaker said, “The way I see it, the concepts of Stand Your Ground laws are valid. If you feel threatened, then yes, you should have the right to protect yourself. But the law is so vague and very much undefined that it allows for loopholes to exist. The question is, did he break the law? Because of the Stand Your Ground law, he did not, and so he cannot be in prison.”
The discussion came to a close talking about the recent verdict to the Davis and Dunn case, where a young African American was gunned down for having his music too loud. Dunn’s plea: the Stand Your Ground law.
A student responded to this case, saying, “I feel that you can’t use the Stand Your Ground law if you were the one that started the situation. It’s contradictory just by common sense.”