Kelly Roderick / Lantern photographer
Clothes make the man, but do they make the criminal? In Trayvon Martin’s case, some Ohio State community members would argue that it took a hoodie and the wrong skin color at the wrong place to get killed allegedly by self-appointed neighborhood watch man George Zimmerman on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla.
“If this would have been black against black, this wouldn’t have been a big story at all,” said Dawaun Horton, a fourth-year in communication. “This stuff happens every day, these stereotypical things are really deep and I don’t think it will ever end, especially in America.”
With a bag of Skittles and a bottle of ice tea, Martin was walking to his father’s girlfriend house. According to multiple media reports, he was confronted by 28-year-old Zimmerman, who called 911 saying that there was a “suspicious guy” wandering around in the neighborhood and that “this guy looks like he’s up to no good or on drugs or something.”
Even though Zimmerman was told that there is no need to follow Martin, the situation escalated and what followed were 911 calls from the surrounding neighborhood, from people who heard the sound of a whining child . When police arrived, Martin was dead.
Zimmerman, who hasn’t been arrested, argues that Martin attacked him and he acted out of self-defense. Due to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, an individual can engage someone with deadly force if threatened for their life. While it is not clear what actually happened that caused Zimmerman to leave his car and walk up to Martin, some members of OSU’s staff believe it was racially motivated.
Robert L. Solomon, assistant dean for admissions and financial aid at the Moritz College of Law, said racial profiling and stereotyping persist in America and with or without hoodie, “black and brown young men are perceived to be criminals.”
When Lawrence Williamson, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, saw a picture of Martin for the first time, he hesitated and had to double take, because the photograph resembled his 15-year-old son.
“My awareness and concerns are heightened because of the injustice that has happened to this young man, and I am also equally concerned about the additional burden of unjust killings of the African-American male that all communities and specifically the African-American community has to continuously endure, because of these types of unfortunate situations,” Williamson said.
Martin’s case almost immediately flooded the Facebook world with calls for justice.
“Our bright, talented and ethical young men of color, who walk the OSU campus and the streets of Columbus every day, are at risk of being racially profiled, and many have already experienced it time and again,” Solomon said.
From the College of Social Work, field coordinator Michael T. Madry said one problem is that the “Stand Your Ground” law offers a very blurry line between self-defense and actual killing, which can lead to other social problems.
“You stereotype one kid and shoot him and get away with it,” Madry said. “What’s the stop for someone also doing the same thing, in the same situation and getting away with that, then someone else doing it and getting away with that?”
Solomon said it doesn’t matter how the justice system decides what happened, what will remain is the broader issue of race relations in America.
“We need open and honest discourse about race among us all in order to create healthy perceptions of those who differ from us,” Solomon said. “We need a criminal justice system that does not disparately impact racial and ethnic minorities as well as the poor and a society that values every human life, and refuses to tolerate the mistreatment of any person regardless of their status.”
Monday night, NPR reported that Martin’s parents attended a House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in Washington D.C. to discuss the federal government’s enforcement of laws against racial profiling and hate crimes.