Panel devotes talk to eradicating racism in America

Paulina Firozi

Students and Northwestern community members gathered Wednesday evening to continue a discussion on racism in American society, especially through police violence.

The deaths of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old boy killed by a neighborhood watchmen in Sanford, Fla., and Rekia Boyd, a 22-year-old woman killed by an off-duty officer in Chicago in March, sparked the event in Swift Hall.

A panel of speakers addressed an audience of about 50 at the event, titled “A Struggle Against the New Jim Crow: Justice for Trayvon Martin and Rekia Boyd.” The panel included Boyd’s brother Martinez Sutton; an African American studies doctoral student, Keeanga Taylor; and Simeon Wright, a cousin of Emmett Till. They discussed the kidnap and beating of Wright’s cousin in 1955, and how the unjust treatment of blacks has persisted throughout the history of the U.S.

The event was sponsored by Occupy NU, Delta Sigma Theta, Alianza and the Coalition of Colors.

“The murder of Trayvon Martin shook a lot of people, and there was a national response you don’t see often in everyday instances and expressions of police brutality and racism,” Occupy NU member and NU graduate student Lauryn Flizeer said. “But it’s a serious problem and has been an epidemic in this country. People need and want to challenge that.”

Flizeer said after the vigil for Martin, students wanted a way to maintain the momentum of the discussion, and the panel’s organizers wanted to provide an opportunity for students to do so.

NU doctoral student Latasha Levy, who also helped organize the event, said it was important for the audience to hear from other families who felt they have experienced injustice or violence on the part of the police as a way to bring further awareness to changes that need to be made to the justice system.

Sutton told the audience about the day he heard of his sister’s shooting. He spoke of how the police came to his home to tell him Boyd had been shot in the head by an off-duty officer at a park late at night and was on life support. He was told the officer shot the girl in self defense because he saw someone she was with holding a gun. Sutton told the audience that he’d heard of this incident on the morning news and had prayed for the family of a 22-year-old woman.

She turned out to be his sister.

Chicago police report the off-duty detective, Dante Servin, approached a group of people and had a verbal altercation with 39-year-old Antonio Cross, according to the Chicago Tribune. The police initially reported Cross approached Servin with a gun, and Servin opened fire in defense, hitting Cross in the hand and Boyd, who police say was an innocent bystander, in the head. Cross told WGN he was unarmed and was on the phone when Servin fired shots. The Chicago Tribune later reported the Independent Police Review Authority did not find a weapon at the crime scene.

Sutton decided to speak to media outlets about his sister’s death.

“I called the news station and told them to meet me at the hospital,” Sutton said. “That’s when I let it be known who my sister was. Because they kept saying ‘A 22-year-old girl was shot in the head.’ My sister didn’t have a name at the time, she didn’t have a face. So what I decided to do, I put a face with that name.”

An April 7 article in the Chicago Tribune detailed a lawsuit filed by Boyd’s family April 5, alleging Servin unlawfully fired his weapon.

The Tribune reported the Independent Police Review Authority is investigating the shooting; meanwhile, Servin is still employed as a detective, but is working in an “administrative capacity” and not investigating cases.

Wright, during the panel, addressed the importance of speaking up and protesting to bring justice to those affected by injustice.

“What would have happened if no one had protested Zimmerman? What would have happened if there were no marches?” he asked the crowd. “Want me to tell you? Nothing. The state of Florida would have done nothing. If Sutton shuts up, nothing will happen to the man that killed his sister.”

Taylor said the cases of Boyd, Martin and even Till were not isolated. She listed some cases of unarmed black men and women who had been recently been killed by police in cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

“Anyone who has black men and boys in their lives, this is a possiblity every time they leave their sight. Police or some racist vigilante who wants to be a cop can snatch their life away, but those demonstrations that have happened have given expression to the years of pent up rage and anger in black communities around this country,” Taylor said.

Audience members also pointed out during the question-and-answer portion that white people were also being shot and killed by police officers and that conversations about injustice should not simply be about race, but should be about racism.

Ryan Arrendell, the First Vice President of Delta Sigma Theta, said she was disappointed with the relatively low turnout, with only 50 people in attendance.

“This auditorium should have been full,” the Medill junior said. “A lot more people should have been here to listen to the words that were shared by a multigenerational panel to get inspired and to get angry and to get touched and to have their own tears shed so something can be done because things like this just can’t go unaddressed.”

Alianza co-president Carlos Martinez said he wanted events like the panel to prompt further movement by students.

“For those that are cognizant of social inequality, I want them to walk out of here with a sense of inspiration,” he said. “I want them to walk out with some drive. I want students not only to accept event invitations on Facebook; I want them to generate events, educate others, challenge systems and contribute to the movement.”

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