[Source: ““Moment of Mourning” vigil held for slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin,” The Daily Iowan, 25 July 2013, by Quentin Misiag]
Calls against local and national racial profiling, continued inadequacy in the American education system, socioeconomic disparities, and civil-rights movement remembrance were pushed to the forefront of Iowa City’s Pedestrian Mall on Wednesday evening.
And while the topics of discussions varied, they all eventually tied into one prominent national verdict and the death of a single Florida teenager.
The “Moment of Mourning” vigil honored Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed African American who, while walking home from a Sanford, Fla., convenience store, was shot and killed on Feb. 26, 2012, by neighborhood volunteer George Zimmerman.
On July 13, a Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty in the teenager’s death.
But for Coralville resident Francine Thompson, the verdict, and Wednesday’s gathering stands for a national catalyst for change that she says has been building for decades.
The Iowa City area, she said, is not immune.
“His situation is not really that unique to other African American males,” she said. “I’m an African American living in a predominantly white community that has a history of and currently is experiencing racial strife. We’ve got to bring awareness of saying, ‘People are not faring the same,” and this is a time where we can and need to care about our neighbors.”
Joining a crowd of nearly 200 who descended on the downtown Weatherdance Fountain Stage, Thompson’s story resembled those of the nearly dozen speakers.
As topics of discussion spawned from the Zimmerman verdict, many drew from the common theme of community, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religious affiliations.
Several speakers, poets, and singers referenced the work of civil-rights movement icons Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in pushing away from the discriminatory envelope, while defying Florida’s stand-your-ground law.
Tate High student Emeral Green, originally a resident of Chicago, said she was asked several days ago if she considered herself safe in Iowa City.
She said she had to pause and collect her full thoughts before giving a response.
Feeling a lack of educational support in school at times, coupled with continued second looks by teachers and police officers that she said is tied to her African American heritage, her answer is mixed.
“A change has to come, and hopefully, hearing from young teens, we can spread teenage advocacy,” she said.
To LaTasha Massey, a co-head of the Iowa City/Johnson County Coalition for Racial Justice, the conversation calls upon a systemic set of generations who have endured discrimination.
A piece of the solution, she said, starts with familiarizing oneself with others to effectively break down discriminatory barriers.
“If we care about our neighbors, then they’ll care about theirs, and it’ll spill over,” she said. “Change might not be in my generation, but we have to have consistency.
“Not in my city, not in my name, not in my block, not next door,” she said.
Concerning claims of racial profiling by Iowa City police, Sgt. Dave Droll said he was not comfortable commenting on a matter he called “significant.”
He deferred comments to Sgt. Vicki Lalla, who was unavailable for comment as of Wednesday evening.
Anthony Haughton, said supporting the Dream Center, a volunteer-driven nonprofit organization that provides social and educational programming to families, with a focus on empowering and educating fathers and young men, is among the first steps necessary.
Haughton, whose mother was the first registered African American nurse at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, stressed the need for educational mentoring.
“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,” he said.