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April 18, 2014

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Zimmerman acquittal sparks frustration, discourse about racial issues during community forum

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Steve Marcus

Darnell Williams bows his head for an opening prayer during a town hall discussion at the Pearson Community Center in North Las Vegas Wednesday, July 17, 2013. The discussion, titled After Trayvon Martin: What Now?, attracted more than 200 people. The Phi Beta Sigma fraternity sponsored the event.

After Trayvon Martin: Town Hall Discussion

Eddie E. poses with a Trayvon Martin T-shirt before a town hall discussion at the Pearson Community Center in North Las Vegas Wednesday, July 17, 2013. The discussion, titled After Trayvon Martin: What Now?, attracted more than 200 people. The Phi Beta Sigma fraternity sponsored the event. Launch slideshow »

George Zimmerman Trial

George Zimmerman, left, stands with defense counsel Mark O'Mara during closing arguments in his trial at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, in Sanford, Fla., July 12, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Louis Isaiah Thomas walked to the microphone wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt and clutching a Watermelon Arizona Iced Tea in his hand.

The 23-year-old North Las Vegas resident wears hoodies all the time — especially for long walks outside — but on Wednesday, he wore it to make a statement. With the hood up, he addressed the waiting audience staring back at him inside the Pearson Community Center.

“I am Trayvon Martin,” Thomas said.

Thomas stood at the microphone seeking justice in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial. The answer, he suggested, would be found in ending violence within the black community.

“How can we expect justice if we don’t want justice ourselves?” Thomas said.

He was one of dozens of community members who spoke during a community discussion about Zimmerman’s acquittal in the death of 17-year-old Martin. Zimmerman fatally shot Martin in a February 2012 confrontation. Zimmerman, 29, who claimed self-defense, was acquitted last week of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.

The event, which was hosted by Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., offered residents a forum to talk about the racial issues raised in the case, the verdict and solutions for the future.

“We want people to get involved, to exercise their rights to vote, exercise their rights to serve on a jury,” said Mark Armstrong, vice president of Phi Beta Sigma. “We want them to understand in terms of what happened as far as the process … and what they need to do as far as, I’m a black American male, we have a lot of black American males who could be in the same situation.”

More than 200 community members attended the event, which involved comments from the community and a panel discussion. Assemblywoman Dina Neal and state Sen. Aaron Ford highlighted a panel that also included Pastor Robert Fowler, Metro Police Lt. William Scott and others.

The panelists touched on everything from the verdict to racial profiling and solutions for the future. Each panelist expressed a mixture of frustration and dismay at the verdict. Ford said he felt goosebumps as he described the fear and doubts his son had about justice. He added that he won’t let his children wear braids or allow their pants to sag out of fear of racial profiling.

Fowler said the verdict in the trial was a reminder that the battle for racial equality is not over.

“It amazes me that people could still say that race had nothing to do with this,” Fowler said. “You would have to be living in another planet to say race had nothing to do with this.”

Others in the crowd echoed those sentiments. One man said he was upset that a young black kid’s life was taken away all because of how he looked. A 16-year-old boy couldn’t understand how Zimmerman was not guilty.

“It was disheartening,” Craig Knight said. “We listened to everyone say, ‘Let the justice system play out and it will work.’ I believe it does work, but it’s also a disadvantage at the same time.”

To prevent another situation similar to the Martin case, panelists and community members suggested there needed to be more involvement. Ford and Neal both said they would be looking at racial profiling legislation and the “stand your ground law” to determine if there are any similarities to Florida.

Outside of the law, Ford said parents need to show love to their children so they know they are valued members of society. Other solutions included the need for more voting, education and dialogue with local law enforcement. Hartwell said people need to be more open to teenagers, as well.

“Our society is also scared of teens because they’re seen as rebellious,” Hartwell said. “People need to open up and get to know them. They need to be race-friendly and diverse in age, as well.”

Neal said the event provided a good starting point for the future. People were frustrated, and the forum provided an outlet to find productive solutions.

“We need to put more solutions on the table,” Neal said. “I know when the African-American-elects have their meeting in the next two weeks … we’re going to focus a lot on the judicial system itself, gun laws and deal with what some of the community strategies are that we need to put in to protect communities. ”

For Thomas, the event offered hope that justice will come.

“It lets me know that it echoes everywhere,” Thomas said. “If we have it here … I’m sure they’re doing it somewhere else. … If you want justice, get off your (butt) and demand it. We asked for it, we ain’t got it, now we demand it.”

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  1. Ho, hum! Where's the concern, the outrage over the bloodbath in Chicago? On route to more than 400 murdered in the black community in Chicago alone in 2013 and these mopes obssess over an altercation that took one life. 92% of all black crime, including murder, is black on black. Where are the marches; where is the indignation? There is little, but the race baiters and rabble rousers are out in full force exacerbating a bad situation by making wild claims such as, "it's open season on black men by white men." That's from Travis Smiley, obviously hyperbole, but it gets the juices flowing in the under-educated members of the black community who, for all their lives, have been told they are "victims" of a "racist" society. BS! They are "victims" of cynical leaders such as Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharprton who play to their emotions in order to live the high life. I accept no blame what-so-ever for slavery in the United States that ended 150 years ago. Nor do I accept any blame for the fact that too many blacks feel "entitled" because of it. There millions of examples of blacks and other minorities making it in our society and they did it by going about their business and ignoring the hot rhetoric of the Jackson's, Sharpton's & Farrakhan's. They did it by getting out of bed and going to work just like anyone else. They weren't looking for pity, sympathy or handouts. They should be held up as the role models in the black community; not the race-baiters or rabble-rousers.

  2. The discourse from the right is stunning...

    Not just the usual suspects we see here under the Sun, posting their usual ego/racial/politico-centric mantra like it's some form of 'Facts from the Tablets, Sent Down From On High', but nationally, you see the likes of Rush, Ann Coulter, Terrible Ted Nugent, et.al, using the George Zimmerman acquittal like it's a license to be RACIALLY DIVISIVE all over again; 'We' won! Yeah! Take THAT you liberal, minority lovin', Gay Marriage backin', ObamaCare supportin' commie pinko Wags'!!!

    The quaint notion that the right holds to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...and Native Americans & Blacks in particular have held onto their 'wronged status' far too long & should just 'assimilate, already'! en-masse, & that Hispanics ought to just 'go home' already so we can 'go back to enjoying our God-given white, Judeo-Christian country in peace & prosperity 'like we always have' is... amazingly, wildly over-simplistic & naive, not to mention ridiculously outside the bounds of REALITY.

    Personal gun ownership & Stand Your Ground laws have been propagated by the NRA with massive cash & misinformation campaigns from Coast to Coast in America...

    WHO do they target in these 'campaigns'? What is their ulterior motive in so doing? Why are 'scare tactics' so effective here in the 'Land of the Free & the Home of the Brave'?

    Why is it necessary for 'conservatives' to celebrate the acquittal of GZ as some form of vindication for their political positions & personal prejudices? Are things THAT DESPERATE on the right side of the aisle?
    I believe so.

  3. What can you say when you're dealing with simple narrow minded people? Nothing, they won't listen to any comments, much less actually read the article.

  4. Rusty...

    I don't watch television, except sporting events. Nice try, though.

  5. Hmmm... of all the "minority" groups in America, why is it only one specific group likes to riot, loot and burn down other peoples property when they get what they ask for??

    They got justice. The justice system did its job. How about the black community step up and do its job? Clean up your neighborhood. The one you torched and looted. Stop having kids without parents. Stop blaming others for your lack of responsibility.

    If you feel the justice system failed you, blame the justice system. When one of your own gets acquitted of murder, I don't hear you screaming for justice...

    You can't have it both ways.

    if the justice system failed you here, then blame the DA and the state, not Mr Zimmerman...