About three dozen people, all clad in hooded sweatshirts, marched down Bailey Avenue on Monday afternoon, holding signs and chanting on the day jury selection began for the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who killed teenager Trayvon Martin last year.
Drivers showed approval by honking their horns at the marchers' signs, which bore slogans such as “Stop Profiling Youth” and “United Against Racism.” The rally was part of National Hoodie Day, an event activists around the country organized to coincide with the start of the Zimmerman trial and to call attention to racial profiling and other problems affecting urban youth in the United States.
The demonstration began at Winspear Avenue and proceeded on Bailey to Langfield Drive, where the marchers assembled in front of the Buffalo Police Department's E District station and spoke out against racial profiling.
“This is what needs to be happening in Buffalo regularly,” said Morgan Dunbar of Amherst, who organized the local rally. “We need to have a presence on these streets regularly to show support and solidarity for what other people are going through, not just in our little silos, in our homes away from the racial profiling.”
Zimmerman – a multiracial Hispanic American who was a neighborhood watch coordinator in a gated Sanford, Fla., community – shot Trayvon Feb. 26, 2012, and told police that Trayvon had attacked him and that he was only defending himself.
Since police later said there was no indication that Trayvon, a black male, was involved in criminal activity, thousands across the country accused Zimmerman of racially profiling Trayvon and demanded he be tried for murder. Trayvon was wearing a hooded sweatshirt when Zimmerman encountered him, and “hoodies” have since become a symbol for racial injustice across the country.
Dunbar organized Monday's event through Save the Kids, a national movement that aims to prevent the incarceration of young people. She started a Buffalo chapter this year.
Other activist and community groups took part in the march, as well. Shenita McLean was representing Fight the Power, a Pan-African organization of students at the University at Buffalo, at the rally. She is from Buffalo's East Side and is pursuing a Ph.D. in physical anthropology. She said she has felt like a victim of racial profiling, particularly in suburban areas.
“These crimes still occur, and one of the biggest problems that we have is that people don't discuss them. There's no discourse,” McLean said, adding that she hoped the march would show East Side residents that they can speak up if they feel something is unjust.
Another East Side resident who marched Monday was Paulette Chatman, a spokeswoman for Teens in Progress, a group of neighborhood kids aged 13 to 21 that support positive lifestyles for each other. Nigel McClinton, one of Chatman's three sons, is the president of the organization.
She wants the public to know that her sons and their friends defy the negative stereotypes often associated with urban youth.
“They don't want to be profiled as being the kids that's out there doing all the violence and killing each other,” Chatman said.