Forty City College students participated April 11 in the “Hoodies and Hijabs” National Day of Action for Justice for Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi. These two young people on opposite sides of the country were killed in senseless acts of violence nearly one month apart from each other.
The students gathered outside City Cafe on Ocean campus to take a group photo while wearing hoodies and hijabs.
“We want justice,” Ashraf Farah Suliman of the Muslim Student Association said. “We need to get together to show that we are united, we have to take action to show that we want change.”
The two killings have brought the issue of racism and violence in the United States to the forefront of national debate.
Alawadi, a 32-year-old Iraqi immigrant who wore a hijab, was beaten unconscious in her living room on March 21 in El Cajon, Calif. She was found by her 17-year-old daughter, Fatima, who said there was a letter near her mother’s head that accused her of being a terrorist.
Alawadi died from her wounds on three days later.
Her killer remains unknown.
Martin, a 17-year-old Miami high school student, was fatally shot in the chest Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, who is white and latino, in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., where Martin was visiting his father.
The 911 calls made by Zimmerman, and released by police, document how he stalked Martin who was wearing a hoodie at the time.
“This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something,” Zimmerman, who is white and latino, said to the operator and then ignored the operator’s instruction not to follow Martin, who is black.
Police investigators initially decided not to arrest Zimmerman.
In San Francisco, protests began on March 21 when around 400 people from the Bay Area attended a rally at Justin Herman Plaza.
Dion Smith of Stockton was a speaker at the rally.
Her 16-year-old son, James Rivera Jr., was killed July 22, 2010, when San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Deputy John Nesbitt and Stockton Police Officers Eric Azarvand and Gregory Dunn allegedly fired 30 or more bullets into his minivan.
“I know how it feels to never see your son graduate from school (…) We told them two years ago there would be more murder. Now we have Trayvon Martin’s murder,” Smith said.
Then on March 26 around 75 people participated in a second demonstration outside the San Francisco county jail.
It was only after over a month of nation-wide public outrage and protests that State Attorney Angela Corey announced that Zimmerman had been arrested and charged with second degree murder.
After hearing that Zimmerman was finally arrested, Ocean Campus Associated Students Vice President Shanell Williams said, “People power is powerful. We can rely on our own self-activity, our voices united in outrage made this arrest happen.”
Jack Bryson, however, was not ready to say if the belated arrest of Zimmerman was a step toward justice.
“I do have hope, but it is going to have to be the whole system of Jim Crow and Willie Lynch that changes,” said Bryson.
Bryson’s sons were friends of Oscar Grant III and witnessed his killing on the Fruitvale BART station platform early on New Years day in 2009 when BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle fatally shot him in the back.
The shooting was recorded by multiple witnesses on cell phone video, and the footage was seen around the world.
In July 2011, after more than two years of turbulent protests in Oakland, a jury convicted Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter–the minimum charge. But Mehserle served a total of just 365 days behind bars.
“How long have we been dealing with this? All the way back to Emmett Till” said Bryson.
Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was murdered in 1955 for the “crime” of allegedly whistling at a white woman while leaving a local store in Money, Miss.