Locals protest racial profiling in "Hoodie March"

BY KRISTEN EAST | MARCH 27, 2012 6:30 AM

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A sea of hooded people of all ages and ethnicities flooded the Pedestrian Mall on Monday evening, quietly but boldly standing in solidarity for justice in the slaying of Trayvon Martin.

Martin, a 17-year-old African American who was unarmed while walking home from a convenience store, was shot and killed for looking suspicious on Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla. Though he has admitted to shooting and killing Martin, Zimmerman has yet to be arrested or charged in the young man's death.


Locals — as with many people around the nation — were outraged.

"I found out about it on the news, and at first, I really didn't get what happened and what the magnitude of it was," said Anthony Ferguson, a University of Iowa sophomore who helped plan the event. "It was a reminder that we as African American people have not come as far as we think we've come."

Several rallies have been held throughout the country since the shooting, and more than 2 million people have signed a change.org petition to prosecute Zimmerman.

The event has sparked discussion among locals about bigotry and stereotyping in the community.

UI journalism Associate Professor Frank Durham said Iowa City is not exempt from ethnic profiling because of the community's long-standing homogenous makeup.

"[The incident] behooves us to recognize that when people are more heterogeneous and come to town, we should slow down and let them tell us who they are instead of imposing stereotypes," he said.

Members of the community said they've felt the effect of Martin's slaying.

"I think there should be justice not just for black people but for all Americans," said Iowa City resident Ashley Smith. "Trayvon was killed for no reason. Zimmerman didn't have a right to do what he did."

However, according to an Orlando Sentinel story published Monday, Zimmerman reportedly told police Martin climbed on him and slammed his head into the sidewalk.

Locals didn't think Zimmerman's report of the incident changes what happened and emphasized Martin being unarmed.

"None of that matters," said Iowa City resident Lamar Reyeones. "He was walking doing nothing with a bottle of tea and Skittles in his pocket. It wasn't right."

Martin's incident also drew a personal connection from Megan Schwalm, who organized Iowa City's Million Hoodie March.

Schwalm — an official at the UI's Women's Resource and Action Center — has a 19-month-old black son named Maddox.

"Until the story of Trayvon's murder was publicized, I hadn't really considered the fact that my child could be killed for simply walking down the street," she said. "At my core, I'm an activist, and [Martin's murder] really activated me to do something."

Though Schwalm anticipated a small turnout for Monday's rally, she had to file for a city permit several times as the number of expected attendees significantly grew last week.

"It's clear that racial profiling exists in our community," she said. "I'm very concerned about things happening on the Southeast Side of Iowa City and how the folks who live there are portrayed."

Durham said Martin's incident is comparable with bigoted practices throughout history.

"The tragedy in Florida seems to conform to a modern day kind of lynching if it proves in the legal sense to follow that pattern," he said. "The kid was shot for reasons that are outside the law. There are comparisons to make between the history of lynching and the way Trayvon Martin was killed."

Durham said the incident will create further opportunities to make statements on stereotypes and ethnic profiling.

"Although this reminds us of a really painful period," he said, "it highlights changes we've made and gives us a chance to engage more change."

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