A year removed from the murder of 17-year-old Travon Martin, hundreds of supporters took to Union Square yesterday, carrying candles and wearing hoodies, to stand in solidarity alongside Martin’s parents on the anniversary of his death.
They demanded justice for Martin in the case against George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old neighborhood watchman who shot and killed the unarmed teenager in a gated community where Martin’s father lived in Sanford, Fl. While demands for justice were loud and fierce, many in attendance acknowledged that the justice they’d like to see for Martin’s death may never materialize if solely left up to the legal system.
“Jail time, that’s justice, nothing less,” Nicholas Heyward Sr., whose teenage son was killed by a rookie NYPD officer nearly 18 years ago, told the Voice. “The way that this system has operated in the past with all these other cases, I don’t see any justice really coming out of that Zimmerman case.”
His son, Nicholas Heyward Jr., was a 13-year-old honor student whom NYPD Housing Officer Brian George shot dead in the stairwell of a building at their home in the Gowanus Houses in Brooklyn. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes never indicted George, and his office concluded that the shooting occurred because George witnessed Heyward Jr. playing with a realistic-looking toy gun, (a plastic pop gun), in a darkly lit area, and reacted in a split-second in fear for his life
Hynes refused to reopen the case after glaring conflicts emerged between the DA office’s official report and a deposition given by George two years later. Heyward Sr. says he’s written and petitioned, to no avail over the years, to multiple mayors, police commissioners, and other public officials to review the case.
“My thing is that after 18 years of protesting, it’s time for the people to organize and take these matters to the streets because there’s no way that I can see we’re going to get justice in the court system,” Heyward said. “I’m hoping for the sake of the people that it does.”
Just as George eluded punishment under the pretenses of a justified homicide, Zimmerman maintains that he shot Martin in self-defense. The murder occurred when Martin was heading back to his dad’s house from a 7-Eleven, carrying a pack of Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea while talking on the phone with his girlfriend. Zimmerman pegged Martin as suspicious, alerted police, then proceeded to defy police advisement not to pursue Martin on his own, leading to an encounter that resulted in the murder of Martin.
“Being black is not a crime. Being brown is not a crime. Being poor is not a crime. Wearing a hoodie is not a crime. Having Skittles is not a crime. Having iced tea is not a crime. Living is not a crime,” City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who’s been outspoken against racial profiling and the NYPD’s practice of stop-and-frisk, said during yesterday’s rally. “Waiting a year for justice is a crime. Having to have uproar, just for an indictment is a crime.”
Williams was alluding to the fact that it took a massive outcry just to get the police to press charges against Zimmerman, who was permitted to go home on the night of the murder. Actor Jamie Foxx also showed up to lend support for the family and expressed equal bewilderment that Zimmerman wasn’t immediately charged.
“All we’re asking [for] is simplicity . . . allow the court system to work,” Foxx said. “The things that baffled me the most is that someone can take someone else’s life and go home.”
Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, and mother, Sybrina Fulton, thanked those at the rally and others around the country for their support — while unofficially declaring February 26 Hoodies Up Day.
“It’s a sober day for us . . . It seems like yesterday that Travon was here. The wounds have not been healed but we’re working towards healing [them], and we just want you all to know that we appreciate all the love and support,” Martin’s father said. “Continue to stay with us . . . until the day I die it will be Hoodies Up Day for me.”
Zimmerman is set to stand trial on second-degree murder charges in June. Councilman Williams urged the powers-that-be to bring justice in the Martin case and Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYPD to finally clean up the culture of racial profiling and police brutality that has long stained the department’s ranks.
“We want justice and we want it now,” Williams said. “Dr. King said riots [are] the language of the unheard. We are unheard . . . So, please us hear while we’re calm because unheard people do things to be heard.”