Protestors participated in a national day of action June 20 by marching through downtown Seattle following a trend of similar events responding to the George Zimmerman ruling, but a larger theme of racial inequality emerged among speakers.
Starting at the Federal Building on 7th and Stewart, the Saturday event drew a modest crowd of around 100-200 people. Hymns and songs were played as people gathered in peaceful protest before speakers addressed the crowd. The speakers ranged from African American clergymen from various congregations, members of the Nation Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as well as a cousin of Trayvon Martin, Cedric Turner.
While the event centered around the killing of Trayvon Martin, the incident highlighted broader issues in America. Activists discussed such topics as the ongoing drug war, judicial system, and incarceration rates that disproportionately effect people of color.
“Racism is still very much apart of the criminal justice system,” said Steve Leigh, a member of the No New Jim Crow Campaign, the primary organizing force behind the event. The campaign is an effort by Seattle social justice activists to create positive change within the local judicial system, as well as Seattle law enforcement, the state prison system, and combating ‘New Racism’. FAS recently spoke with Councilmember Mike O’Brien who noted racial disparities within the prison system, something speakers hit on during the Saturday event.
Drawing connections between two recent Stand Your Ground cases in Florida, speakers discussed the Zimmerman ruling and a case involving Marissa Alexander — a African American Florida resident who received twenty years in prison for firing a warning shot in self defense due to an abusive husband.
“I think that the way in which they [the courts] treated Marissa in comparison to the Trayvon Martin case exemplifies the crux of the race issue. Stand Your Ground doesn’t apply to a black woman,” said Adrienne Weller, an activist and member of the Freedom Socialist Party.
Tony Orange, a member of the Seattle branch of the NAACP said, “I am sad and sickened by the fact that Trayvon is dead and Zimmerman is free.” One speaker said he couldn’t tell his son what had happened, but he would never say it wasn’t about race if asked. Seattle City Council candidate, Kshama Sawant, was among the crowd, and also spoke on the topic of race relations.
“This is Seattle. It’s easy for us to get lulled into a feeling that, ‘oh well that happened in Florida.’ But we should remember that racial profiling doesn’t just happen in Florida, it happens all over the country and it happens very much here in Seattle,” said Sawant.
Pointing to the recent Department of Justice investigation into Seattle police, Sawant said, “Police brutality, especially against people of color, and young people, poor people, and the homeless is a burning issue in people’s minds.” In May, Seattle police monitor, Merrick Bobb told the City Council that SPD is “making progress,” but was having trouble with internal communications. Sawant said, “what Seattle needs is for the SPD to be held accountable by ordinary working people, not by the city establishment.” Police confrontation was not an issue at the Saturday protest, and the event concluded by winding down Fifth Avenue through downtown and up to Pratt Park.
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