By David Self Newlin
April 3, 2012
Salt Lake City, UT – More than 1000 people marched through the streets of downtown here, March 31, with Trayvon Martin posters and peace signs waving. Marchers raised their fists in the air and shouted, “Justice for Trayvon, justice for everyone!”
Salt Lake City residents, led by organizers from the University of Utah Black Student Union, United for Social Justice, Occupy Salt Lake City and Revolutionary Students Union, marched to show support for the movement now building around Trayvon Martin, an African American teenager fatally shot by vigilante George Zimmerman while walking back to his father’s house in a gated community. Protesters called for the arrest of Zimmerman.
“We are doing a march for Trayvon Martin. May he rest in peace,” said protester Jay Bone Tha Young Savioso. “We feel that it’s not right. We’re all here together standing up for what’s right.” Savioso carried an iced tea and a bag of Skittles, items that Martin carried with him when he was shot. He also had his daughter, a toddler, with him.
More than calls for the arrest of Zimmerman, the march demanded action against racist police and government. “No justice, no peace, no racist police!” was chanted time and time again along the route. The shooting of Trayvon Martin outrages many activists. The strong stance of Martin’s family brought national attention and many hope to build a movement to stop similar murders, along with racist police brutality and misconduct in general.
“It is a case where the racism of the system seems very clear,” said Revolutionary Student Union organizer Kerem Cantekin. “I don’t mean just Zimmerman. I think it was not only Zimmerman who took Trayvon as the prime suspect, but the police, the investigation.”
Many African American protesters were concerned about the fact they are looked upon as suspect by default. Rally speaker Brent Jackson said that he had personally been stopped by Salt Lake City police simply for being Black and wearing certain clothes. He asked the crowd to “wake up.”
“A lot of Black people are scared now because any one of us can be next,” said a 17-year-old protester named Carl.
Annette Bankhead, a member of the Black Student Union, worried about her godchildren and how they would be treated. “I felt it was important to organize the march, because I am a godmother of a young boy, and I do not want him to have to walk down the street wearing a hoodie and be profiled.”
Organizer Victor Puertas said that he helped put together the march because, “I am tired of racism, of how this racist country treats people of color and then how they excuse this treatment.” He said that people in Utah feel the pain of police brutality every day, “even when it doesn’t make the news.”
Puertas specifically cited Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD) officer Shane Conrad. It was recently ruled that he used “unjustified” force in the non-fatal shooting of Denzel Davis last year. There are other officers infamous in the community for targeting the homeless and people of color for arrest and harassment. Protesters also denounced the SLCPD gang unit for brutality and racial profiling, chanting, “Shame on SLCPD gang unit!”
Puertas also spoke about the murder of Iraqi immigrant Shaima Alawadi as an important example of the racist oppression in the United States. Alawadi was murdered in her California home after being harassed and called a terrorist a week earlier. She was given no protection by the local police department. Relatives sent her body home to be buried in Iraq.
Both Bankheab and Puertas also said that it was important to show that Utahns are against racism and to show solidarity with those fighting against it. “I did not want Utah not participating when the nation was coming together for justice,” Puertas said.
Utah is one of over 20 states that has a so-called “stand your ground” law, which allows for much wider latitude in using deadly force than simple self defense. The law has existed in some form in Utah since 1994.
Deb Henry from Occupy Salt Lake City spoke about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), citing them as partly responsible for introducing “stand your ground” legislation in Utah and called for protests against them. ALEC will meet in Salt Lake City in July.
“This law has got to go and we all have to be together on this,” said immigrant rights activist Archie Archuleta.