Silent students protest Trayvon Martin case

University students stood in silence at the Tate lawn.

They gathered there on Friday, February 23 to protest the shooting of Trayvon Martin, with the support of the University chapter of the NAACP.

Martin, a Florida teenager, was shot and killed as he returned home from a convenience store on Feb. 26. Controversy started after George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman who said he killed the 17-year-old in self-defense, was not initially apprehended or investigated.

Nekabari Goka, an economics and international affairs major from Atlanta, and Zellars facilitated the protest. Zellars said over 175 students attended, word was spread entirely through Twitter, Facebook and by word of mouth.

Goka said that he initially found out about the incident via social media, but did not believe it at first.

“I was in class and saw a lot of hashtag Trayvon Martin, justice in florida,” He said. “When I heard the details I almost thought it was a joke, to say that a 17-year-old kid with iced tea and skittles and wearing a hood, and the shooter, the one with the nine millimeter, felt that his life was in danger.”

Soon after, Goka saw Zellars decided something needed to be done, organized the protest and were out on the lawn three days later.

“That shows a testament to the fact that we have the ability to mobilize,” Goka said. “Time and time again we’ve shown that when University of Georgia students talk, Georgia listens.”

As a part of the protest students stood silently in black, many with skittles and iced tea, and held signs with slogans or twitter hashtags to promote awareness.

“The reason we decided to do a silent protest is that if you look at the news, or if you look at social media there is a lot of talk,” Goka said. “You sort of loathe situations where people talk about things but don’t necessarily act. Coming up with the idea for the silent protest we said we aren’t going to talk, we’ll just act.”

Goka said that the way the news spread “like wildfire” was an indication of the potential of social media, which has been seen on an international scale.

“January of my junior year was when the entire Arab Spring movement happened, and I thought ‘How in the heck could Twitter start a social revolution?’” he said.

The inaction in the Martin case that sparked widespread controversy was attributed, by many, to Florida’s “Stand your ground” law, and the incident has brought Georgia’s own version of the law, “No Duty to Retreat,” under a microscope as many wonder if a similarly complex situation could arise.

“It seems like he was murdered for no specific reason,” said Stewart Zellars, an economics and statistics major from Augusta. “The silent protest is really for us to take a stand and say, ‘This is how we feel about something. We think this is an injustice.’”

Some Georgia Assembly members have called for a return to the old law, in which the defendant had a duty to retreat.

“It was a bad bill then, and it is a bad law now,” State Senator Vincent Fort said.

University of Georgia Law professor Camilla Watson said that the laws in Florida and Georgia the old law was changed because a number of redundancies .

“One [inconsistency] is, in order to have a valid self defense the threat has to be imminent. So, if it’s an imminent threat how can you have a duty to retreat,” Watson said. “The other thing is, a lot of people have called this the shoot first ask questions later law, and it does make the self defense doctrine a little stronger, but the other aspect of self defense is that you, the person claiming self defense, cannot be the initial aggressor.”

Watson said that, as she understood the facts at hand, the situation actually arose after the State’s Attorney was called by the officers on scene and  decided there was not enough evidence to bring up a case against Zimmerman. After further investigation that decision was overturned, and Zimmerman was charged with second degree murder.

Nonetheless, Fort and other senators plan to move forward with legislation and activism to reverse the law.

Zellars said that this is just the start of the movement, which will continue to rally in support of Martin’s family, and push for changes to the law. They are going to sell T-shirts to raise awareness, and are working with advocacy groups in Atlanta and Florida to organize new, focused movements to keep people engaged.

“The justice system isn’t doing what it has to do to make sure these things don’t happen in the future,” Goka said. “From a University of Georgia student community standpoint this is an attack on the structure of things, and a jolt of reminder to our elected officials that they’re here to represent us, not the other way around.”

 

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