By Liisa Wale
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
Saturday, August 17th a large crowd gathered at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix to discuss and create support around the topic of racial profiling in the African American community here in Arizona. It began with a press conference and rally then continued with morning and afternoon panel discussions. Many people in the crowd came to hear Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, who traveled to Arizona for this event.
The day began with a morning rally looking out over the lake. The message of this rally was “Justice for Trayvon Martin”. Supporters of this rally included National Action Network, AZ Informant, Fearless Fabulous Sisterhood Network and Occupy Community Picnics. Speakers included Bishop Joshua Mangram of AZUSA World Ministries, Benjamin Taylor who is a local attorney and Kathryn McKinney of Black Women of Faith. They spoke of the past, moving forward, and about justice. Songstress Candice Chavez sang for the audience. Throughout the rally/press conference the Centennial Buffalo Soldiers of the Arizona Territory stood behind the speakers as a “presentation of colors”.
After the rally people joined the many already gathering at the Memorial Hall in the park to hear speakers discuss racial profiling. The event was titled “Racial Profiling: Life to Death”. The purpose of the event was not only to hear Sybrina Fulton speak of her personal experience but to continue a community dialogue to examine the systemic impact of race bias and profiling on communities of color. Organizers of this event stated that it was also about community awareness and standing together. The event included panel discussions as well as music and spoken word during the breaks. Those in the audience included the parents of Oscar Grant, leaders from the religious community, lawyers, and Arizona politicians.
The first panel was titled “Racial Profiling: Impact on Youth and the Criminal Justice System”. It began with a video created by incarcerated youth about a personal family experience. The panel included Judge Penny Willrich from the Phoenix School of Law, Alex Munoz of Films By Youth Inside, Hip Hop Mogul Rampage, and Ja’han Jones- a student activist and contributor to Arizona Informant. Willrich began the discussion mentioning that racial profiling is broader than we think and that “laws are supposed to be written in a neutral way, but that is only an illusion.” These laws allow for higher incarceration of youth of color. The conversation on this panel mainly focused on how to empower and engage the youth. Ways that were suggested by the panelist to empower and engage is through the arts and educating the youth on topics they are interested in and impact them. Munoz stated that we need to engage youth in the process and make sure they know “they are important, have a voice, that they have a lot to contribute”.
The afternoon panel was titled “The Law: Our Rights through a Historical Lens” and included Benjamin Crump, attorney for the Martin family; Dr. Ray Winbush, director of the Institute of Urban Research at Morgan State University; Charlene Tarver of Tarver Law Group and Daniel Ortega of Ortega Law Firm. They spoke to the issue of the legal system and how it is set up to create racial profiling and that this needs to change. Crumb spoke about the importance of challenging the current legal system in place because everyone “should have a right to walk in peace”. Winbush mentioned in conversation that the community needs to “talk of the system of white supremacy” that causes racial profiling to continue. Tarver spoke of “as long as have fear to change things will continue”. The topic of Latino racial profiling here in Arizona was brought into the conversation. Ortega said that communities of color need to “reach across the street” and work with others because “the difference found by Latinos not any different than what blacks face.” He went to say that social movements have been very effective in creating change.
Arizona is one of 21 states that have a “Stand Your Ground” law. This is the same law that allowed George Zimmerman to be found “not guilty” last month in Florida in the death of Trayvon Martin. Throughout the day this was brought up within the discussions because it is one of the legal ways in which racial profiling in the courts is continued to be upheld. Questions that arose within the “conversation” included needing to change the laws the currently exist today. In order to do that though people need to feel empowered that they can create that change. One of the organizers of the event stated that what needs to change is “lack of knowledge and awareness of people who are different”.
The afternoon finished off with a “conversation” with Sybrina Fulton and Benjamin Crump. Fulton spoke of Trayvon and her disbelief that this could have happened to him. She and her family were just living an “average life” like many others when her son was murdered. A question that was asked during the discussion was “will Trayvon be a catalyst for change?” and Crumb answer to that was “I certainly hope so”. When the verdict of Zimmerman was happening Fulton prayed and asked God to “make sure that who shot my son would be punished” but it ended up “not being part of God’s plan”. Sybrina is traveling to places throughout the country to speak to others of her families experience to “make sure the does not happen to anyone else’s child” and to encourage others to change laws “so people do not get away with murder”. Hopefully her words sunk in.