Trayvon Martin case leads to rally

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 14, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — When he was shot by George Zimmerman on February 26, Trayvon Martin was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, carrying a bag of Skittles candy and a bottle of iced tea.
At a central point during Saturday’s Trayvon Martin Justice Rally at Thomas Street Church of Christ, young people donned hoodies and silently carried bags of Skittles to the altar table.
The rally, organized by Gastonia civil rights activist John C. Barnette, had as its central theme the phrase, “It’s Not Over.”
Despite the fact Zimmerman was charged Wednesday with second-degree murder, Barnette said justice is not assured in the case of the slain Florida teenager.
And, Barnette said, there are other African-American youths whose deaths go unreported, week after week.
“When we look at Trayvon Martin’s case, it is just one of many,” said Barnette, whose THUG Ministries — “True Healing Under God” — was founded in 1997.
Wearing a white T-shirt emblazoned with Martin’s photo and “Justice 4 Trayvon,” Barnette talked about his own progression from anger and resentment to forgiveness after the 1994 shooting death of his own brother.
About 60 people attended the rally, which lasted more than three hours and featured hymns, prayers and six speakers, both clergy and concerned citizens.
Barnette said they have been visiting cities throughout North Carolina to raise awareness and call communities to action.
Many in the audience were young people, not much younger than the slain Martin.
Barnette and other speakers warned them to be aware of their situations, and urged parents to take charge of their childrens’ lives.
“There are some Zimmermans in Salisbury,” Barnette said. “There are some Zimmermans in the mountains, doing target practice.
The problem was not a particular race, he said, but “the climate that produced them.”
But, Barnette said, the time had come for black youth to take their lives more seriously.
“Young people, put down your guns and pick up a book,” he said.
“I dare you to turn off BET for two hours and teach yourself about Medgar Evers and Stokely Carmichael” – two leaders of the civil rights movement.
Barnette has visited Salisbury before. In 2010, he led rallies protesting what he said was excessive use of force by local police.
Saturday, he and other speakers asked parents and church leaders to go into the community and make changes.
B.J. Murphy, a radio personality who formerly hosted the “Breakfast Brothers” show on Power 98 FM, called Martin’s death “a horrific tragedy” that could easily be repeated.
“When you’re looking at your children, you’re looking at Trayvon,” Murphy said.
“There are people who, it’s hard to fathom, have in their mind a lust to kill you.”
Murphy, who lives in Gastonia, is a member of the Nation of Islam.
He said that only God can bring peace, and encouraged the crowd, but especially young people, to build a strong faith relationship.
And Murphy pointed to rallies across the nation as signs God is using Martin’s death to help bring people together across racial lines.
“(God) is galvanizing young people in a way that we’ve never known,” Murphy said.
Others expressed a different viewpoint.
Robert Smith, pastor of White Street Church of Christ in Lexington, blasted local law enforcement and said racial profiling happens regularly.
“They (law enforcement) don’t go up to the country club,” Smith said. “All they do is build more jails, buy more police cars, gas ‘em up and go chase our children,” Smith said.
He encouraged citizens to be watchful, and to make their voices heard in the community.
In a prayer, his invocation, asked God for protection “for all our Trayvons.”
Earl Kendall, a retired principal living in Davidson County, said hatred and anger are too much a part of American culture.
Speaking especially to young people, Kendall said, “Arm yourself with courage to do the right thing all the time, and not to put yourself in a position when there is a question about your intentions or your actions.”
He called Martin’s killer, Zimmerman, “a coward.”
“This evil, hot-headed demon seized the moment to take (Martin’s) life,” Kendall said.
“You must never be caught out at night alone. There is power and protection in numbers.”
And, Kendall said, teens must never stop communicating with their parents, while parents must not be afraid to watch over their children.
For Jonnetta Blackwell of Salisbury, the arrest of Zimmerman alone does not bring a sense of justice.
“I don’t think it changes anything,” she said, going on to question whether Zimmerman would be held accountable.
Her brother, James Blackwell, said he thinks Martin’s death is a sign of danger everywhere.
“It could happen here, it could happen to anybody,” he said.
“Some people haven’t even met a black person in their entire life,” James went on. “They judge by what they hear.”
“And what they see on TV,” Jonnetta added.
William Latten, minister at Thomas Street Church of Christ, said the problem was a lack of willingness to communicate and get involved, both among blacks and whites.
“People only want to get involved when there’s a tragedy,” Latten said. “They don’t have the kind of involvement that would ward off a tragedy.”
Tracy Bernhardt, a 15-year-old student at Knox Middle School, said shootings could be avoided if fewer people had guns.
Tywuan Smith, 12, said he felt people would be safer if there were fewer gang-related incidents.
But Murphy struck a chord echoed by other speakers throughout the afternoon.
“We’ve got to get back to the basics of self-respect,” he said. “We want to raise self-respecting black children, and white children, and Hispanic children.”
In his remarks as the rally closed, Smith said that African-Americans must go into the community ready to communicate and advocate for change.
“This doesn’t stop here,” Smith told the audience. “This is where it begins.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 794-797-4244.