Editorial: Senseless death, wise responses

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 23, 2012

The uproar over 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s killing in Sanford, Fla., goes back further than the February night a neighborhood-watch volunteer gunned him down.
And the concerned, nonviolent way Livingstone College students addressed the issue here in Salisbury Friday also has its roots in another time.
First, the Florida killing.
There’s ample room for doubt in shooter George Zimmerman’s claim of self defense. “This guy looks like he is up to no good — he is on drugs or something,” Zimmerman told police as he watched the hoodie-clad youth walk through his neighborhood. A dispatcher told Zimmerman not to continue following the youth, but the 28-year-old man ignored the advice. Soon Trayvon was dead.
Yet Zimmerman still had not been arrested as of Friday, nearly a month after the incident. Black activists may be right when they protest that a black man who had shot a white in similar circumstances would have been cuffed and hauled off to jail before immediately.
Ghosts of the old South hover in the background of this incident — ghosts of the “chastening rod” of slavery and Jim Crow days when vigilante justice was carried out with a rope. Ghosts of 14-year-old Emmett Till, lynched in Mississippi in 1955 for supposedly flirting with a white woman.
No race is immune to bigotry and harm, but those eras forever colored perceptions of justice for the black community.
Which makes Livingstone College students’ reaction Friday all the more important. About 100 students gathered on the campus library steps to join the national chorus of protest — but also to hear a call to better inform themselves. Rumors of injustice spread like fire in a parched forest. The Livingstone students were advised to arm themselves with the facts and take pro-active measures to make sure something like Trayvon Martin’s death doesn’t happen in this community.
The call for calm action was reminiscent of the highly charged days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. Livingstone students and faculty silently marched to the county courthouse in downtown Salisbury, 750 strong and carrying signs that called for peace and justice. “We are all Americans,” said a professor, the Rev. Robert Clayton. “We are not here to riot but to proclaim our belief in the ideals (of Martin Luther King). We will not throw bricks, but we will throw ballots.”
Florida officials say they have not arrested Zimmerman because of a new state law on self defense that permits a person “to stand his ground” if he feels his life is in danger wherever he may be. Authorities should leave that decision to a judge and jury. Arrest the man who killed Trayvon Miller and stand your ground for justice.