“I’m just walking down the street, please don’t shoot me. With my Skittles and my ice tea, please don’t shoot me.”
This was one of many chants lead by Nick McKnight, a sophomore at Western Michigan University majoring in organizational communication, during a rally for Trayvon Martin.
“That’s what [Martin] was carrying,” McKnight said.
Martin was a black teenager from Sanford, Fla., who was shot the night of Feb. 26 by a neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman who claimed he did it in self-defense.
However, as the story unfolds, the debate over whether or not this was a race-influenced incident continues to escalate.
“The most important thing to remember here is that we have a young black man dead and there hasn’t been sufficient investigation,” said Ted McKinnon, a sophomore at WMU and a war veteran intending to major in social work.
“This story changes every day, but one thing stays constant: someone had a gun and it got used. Nothing else matters, race, gender, age, nothing. The only thing is someone had a gun, if there wasn’t a gun he’d still be alive,” said McKinnon.
“You can carry a gun anywhere, almost,” said Don Cooney, a speaker during the rally right before the march began. Cooney has been a member of WMU’s School of Social Work faculty since 1977, and serves as a City Commissioner for Kalamazoo.
During the rally, those who participated wore the hoods of their jackets and hoodies, emulating the way Martin looked the night he was shot.
The hoodie was a characteristic of Martin’s appearance that many believe significantly contributed to his shooting.
“These hoods are very symbolic because he was different, he was sought out,” said Cooney.
The true reason why Martin was shot is debatable.
“I hear people saying he was shot for no reason, but that’s not true. he was shot out of fear,” said McKinnon.
“He was just walking through a nice gated community, [Zimmerman] approached him, shot him, and he’s not being charged,” said Nichole Nzioki, a Kalamazoo Valley Community College student majoring in social work.
Nzioki, like others at the march, came in order to raise awareness about Martin and cases like his, chanting, “Hoods don’t mean hoodlums. Justice for Trayvon, when do we want it? Now.”
“If we continue to let this happen justice will continue to get swept under the rug,” said McKnight.
Many of those who attended were required to do so for Barb Barton’s Social Work 2100 class, and not everyone found the gathering very impactful.
“We walk around the building with our hoods on and no one knows what we’re doing, now we’re outside and no one’s out here,” said a source who asked to remain anonymous.
Although particular students may have had their criticisms, many thought the gathering was a good way to raise awareness, and the march was a positive experience for those who want to organize similar events as a career someday.
“Any time people raise their voices it’s effective in raising awareness for social justice,” said Barton. “It was many of those students’ first times protesting like that. They’re going to go home and tell their parents and their roommates, who’ll start asking questions and [consequently] increase the voice of the protest.”
“Look around you,” said Cooney. “[Your classmates] have their hoods up, do they look suspicious? For every unarmed citizen that’s categorized by how they look, we need to be aware of it.”