Echoing national outcry surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin, more than 1,000 Austinites of different races and creeds marched down Congress Avenue to protest what they described as continuing institutional racism Tuesday evening.
Beginning at 5 p.m,, organizers and Austinites began to congregate before the Texas Capitol gates to rally against the Feb. 26 killing. As the crowd began to grow larger to include local politicians and UT groups including the Black Student Alliance and University Democrats, the initially silent protesters began to wave their signs and gather in a circle to sing “We Shall Overcome.”
A 17-year-old African-American, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Fla., while walking through a gated community to his father’s fiance’s home, allegedly by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman.
Following the example of other rallies across the nation calling for Zimmerman’s arrest and awareness about racial tensions in the United States, Tuesday’s rally was created to raise awareness about institutional racism and senseless suspicion, said organizer James Nortey.
Nortey created the Facebook group for the event, along with former Texas House member Glen Maxey and three others.
“I think this resonates particularly in Austin, with its history of minority shootings,” Nortey said. “People are shocked this is still happening when it has been going on for decades. We need to be proactive about making sure this doesn’t happen to a 17 year old in Austin.”
Though Martin was unarmed, Zimmerman described Martin as suspicious and claimed the killing was in self-defense.
Because of Florida’s “stand your ground” self-defense law, Zimmerman was not taken into custody and nationwide clamor for his arrest ensued after tensions grew online through Facebook and Twitter. Zimmerman has not yet been charged with a crime, although state and federal investigations are ongoing.
According to a pamphlet from the Austin Center for Peace and Justice distributed at the rally, there have been 11 killings of unarmed African-Americans and Hipsanics in Austin since 1980. The most recent is the shooting of Byron Carter last year by the Austin Police Department, after the on-duty officer claimed his partner’s life was in danger.
Following the lead of a group of rally members and Chas Moore, a former UT student and participant in the rally, a large number of the protestors began to march down Congress Avenue to City Hall, chanting “no justice, no peace, no racist police.”
“The fight for racial equality is continuing,” Moore said. “It’s not just a black, white thing anymore. It’s minorities fighting against the judicial and economic system. How long are we going to sit here and take this injustice?”
Over a hundred members of the UT BSA were present at the rally and march, said BSA secretary Reva Davis.
“We are here to support Trayvon Martin and his family,” Davis said. “This march is confirmation for what we want, but this is not enough at all. This is just the start of something that we hope will grow bigger.”
Other marchers included Austinite and UT alumnus Rudy Malveaux, who said that the killing of an African-American teenager in 2012 is absurd.
“We’ve gotten desensitized toward violence against black males to the point where boys can be killed for absolutely nothing,” Malveaux said. “The people in this crowd aren’t just black, they’re Americans. This is American family, and we can’t kill the kids in the family.”
Many protesters also held copies of the Daily Texan after assistant English professor Snehal Shingavi distributed them to the rally.
Shingavi said an editorial cartoon published in Tuesday’s Daily Texan was racist and inappropriate, and asked for protesters to support a petition to “censure Stephanie Eisner,” the cartoonist who drew the illustration in question, and “open The Daily Texan to staff and students to hold discussions about portraying racism.”
BSA member Ken Nwankwo said many African-American students at UT and members of the rally were disappointed by the cartoon, which depicts a mother reading to her child a statement about a “white man killing an innocent, handsome colored boy.”
“Clearly the cartoon is satire in the most wrong point, but it had to come out today on the rally for Trayvon Martin?” Nwankwo said. “There’s a lot in here in terms of rhetoric and syntax that’s incorrect. The cartoon downplays the whole issue.”
Ending their march at city hall, protesters listened attentively to the speakers’ messages.
“What we did was something they say doesn’t work anymore,” Moore said. “We are fighting for the rights of everyone, and we have to pressure the justice system and the education system to make it work. Don’t just go home and think the battle is over.”
Editor's note: (03/28/12 at 9:22 a.m.) changed "censor" to "censure."
Printed on Wednesday, March 28, 2012 as: Protesters rally against racism