It was an unspeakable tragedy. As the 911 calls from that tragic night make clear, Trayvon Martin was targeted strictly based on his appearance. Martin was murdered for being Black and wearing a hoodie in a gated community. The fact that George Zimmerman has not been convicted of any charges only reinforces the cynicism in communities of color about our law enforcement and criminal justice systems.
When I first heard about the killing of Martin, I immediately knew we had to organize, be vocal and fight for justice. It was a crime motivated by ignorance and by prejudice that led to a death that should not have happened.
Like many, I quickly saw the disturbing similarities between Florida’s outrageous “Stand Your Ground” law and New York City’s own flawed approach to policing with “stop-and-frisk.” I have met with many young men and heard their stories about how they had been stopped for simply being Black or Latino. Incidents like these only serve as a reminder of how much further we as a society have to go until all people are treated equally.
With my colleagues in the City Council, I introduced a resolution condemning Martin’s killing and demanding an independent investigation. We held a large rally on the steps of City Hall, where council members wore hoodies. It was crucial that the City Council added its voice to the growing national movement calling for justice for Martin and his family.
Martin’s legacy grew from there. It helped many New Yorkers recognize the injustice, pain and inefficiency stemming from the Bloomberg administration’s misuse of stop-and-frisk on innocent young men of color. It gave many a new perspective on how race affects perception and how we must have policies that improve community relations, not foster hostility. President Barack Obama was right—it is important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.
In Martin’s death, we experienced the need for Blacks and Latinos here in New York City to come together to reform stop-and-frisk. Working with Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander, we passed the Community Safety Act, which will increase police accountability and outlaw racial profiling. I also was an early supporter of both Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate-elect Tish James because they shared my conviction that we can have safe neighborhoods without unconstitutional tactics that harass our communities.
In the next session of the City Council, we can honor Martin’s legacy by strengthening the bonds between the Black and Latino communities. We can move forward in this progressive moment and create the change we need. United, we can raise the minimum wage, end racial discrimination in housing and employment, fix New York City Housing Authority for residents, restore and strengthen voting rights and improve community relations with the police.
Working together, we can overcome the challenges facing our communities. We can make sure that Martin didn’t die in vain.
Melissa Mark-Viverito currently serves as a New York City council member, representing District 8, which includes El Barrio/East Harlem, Manhattan Valley and Mott Haven.