Philly protesters rally for Trayvon Martin, call for end to ‘Castle Doctrine’
Occupy Philadelphia announced the demonstrations on their Facebook page shortly after the trial. “Two events are being organized in response to the verdict of the Zimmerman trial and to memorialize Trayvon Martin and all others lost to racist violence. An hour after the verdict a 17-hour vigil, one hour for each year of Trayvon’s life.” The rally took place at the Municipal Services Plaza in Center City.
And as of Monday afternoon, they’re still there.
“I don’t know what to protest other than the white supremacist system. We’re not here protesting; we’re here to create a space for people who feel like their lives have very little value. And so we wanted to create a space for people to come and grieve, and to be angry and to be sad,” Khadijah White, 30, who teaches journalism and media studies at Rutgers-New Brunswick, tells Philadelphia Weekly today.
Most urban areas sprawled with protests and rallies this weekend. The press is focusing most of its attention on rallies going on in Los Angeles and New York, but San Francisco, St. Louis and Sanford, Florida have also lit up with protesters reacting to what many believe was injustice in the murder of a young boy. MSNBC host Rev. Al Sharpton has promised protests in more than 100 cities across the United States through his group, National Action Network.
Philly protesters organized at least 700 people yesterday, according to press reports. Many have been noting that Martin’s murder and his killer’s acquittal are part of a larger pattern of race relations in the United States. Among those signs created by Philadelphia protesters: “Amerikka is still racist as hell,” “This system is still racist,” “No justice, no peace,” “When will we value black life?” and “Florida ‘justice’: Woman gets 20 years for warning shot. White man kills black youth and goes free.”
The latter example is one which has been circulating freely on the Internet since the acquittal was handed down: Marissa Alexander, a black woman who fired a warning shot against her allegedly abusive husband, was sentenced to 20 years in Florida back in 2012. That she is black and Zimmerman is Hispanic (and only one got off) has been a point of contention amongst those proclaiming outrage.
Both cases, and others, have created a new debate around “Stand Your Ground” laws, which, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, exist in some form in at least 22 states—including Pennsylvania. Stand Your Ground was the original justification for not arresting Zimmerman until almost two months after the killing. However, Zimmerman’s defense did not use Stand Your Ground as justification when the time came for a trial — something even pro-gun Pennsylvania legislator Daryl Metcalfe agreed with when PW spoke to him last year.
“The stand-your-ground component of our law would require—if you’re not in your home or vehicle or place of business—if you are out and about and you believe that your life is threatened, then the person threatening your life has to have some type of a weapon to do it. You can’t just claim self-defense and pull the trigger. The criminal element has to have a weapon that they could use to inflict bodily harm and ultimately seriously hurt you in order for you to use deadly force,” Metcalfe said.
In Florida, police are required to cite specific evidence against someone who claims self-defense before arresting him or her.
A Florida task force reviewed that state’s Stand Your Ground law last year, though only made recommendations for minor changes. Changes which were not made by the Florida Legislature.
But changes were made to Pennsylvania law by the legislature a year earlier. In June 2011, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a Stand Your Ground law, also referred to as the Castle Doctrine, which allows citizens to use deadly force or otherwise, in their home or “any place they have a legal right to be.”
“It’s dangerous,” notes White, the Rutgers teacher at the Municipal Services Building, of Pennsylvania’s Castle Doctrine. “I’m an African-American woman. I’m literally afraid on a regular basis to have my little brother who’s 15 in this city. Because at this point we just said that any white man with a gun can go after a child and kill him, and go home. So I think Pennsylvania needs to think seriously about what’s happened in Florida and think about…and they didn’t even use ‘Stand Your Ground.’ So, I mean, the fact that that Castle Doctrine can be applied is dangerous. And it needs to be reconsidered.”
Protesters also claimed a Philadelphia police officer came to their rally and kicked over candles memorializing Martin and others.
That Castle Doctrine expansion in Pennsylvania had been vetoed by former Governor Ed Rendell during his time as the state’s executive branch leader. Gov. Tom Corbett, however, signed the legislation after being in office for just six months. It became effective law in August 2011.
“The use of force upon or toward another person is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion,” reads the Pennsylvania law.
And although a jury of Zimmerman’s peers found him not guilty this weekend, groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have called for the Justice Department to turn the shooting into a national civil rights case—something the Department is considering. According to prepared statements printed this afternoon by Buzzfeed, Attorney General Eric Holder will call Martin’s death an “unnecessary shooting” at a Delta Sigma Theta social luncheon.
A federal case could be filed if “evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction.”
Many protesters the country over believe that would be the right thing to do.
“This is part of something that is even bigger than expanding the Castle Doctrine or the Stand Your Ground laws that allow white vigilantism,” Sean Damon, 35, of Southwest Philadelphia, says. “It’s also the disregard for black life in this country, whether we’re talking about the system of mass incarceration that we have that targets black and brown communities and disproportionately locks people up in cages across the country, whether we’re talking food stamps, whether we’re talking defunding education — that particularly disproportionately effects neighborhoods with black and brown kids. There’s a sense that the system is never set up to work for them, and there’s a lot of anger.”
PW intern Max Ufberg contributed to this article.
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