Lantern file photo
America’s past is riddled with racial struggles, and while the nation made strides toward equality with the Civil Rights Movement, some members of the Ohio State community said the country still has a long way to go.
The death of 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin occurred almost a year ago, and people quickly labeled the shooting as a hate crime and even a regression in civil rights. The unarmed teen was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida.
Judson Jeffries, an OSU professor of African-American and African Studies, attributed this label to stereotypes that surround black men which, he added, slow racial progress in the U.S.
“Of course they take the country back,” Jeffries said in an email. “Oftentimes, black males are perceived by those outside of the black race as deviant and dangerous. Zimmerman bought into the stereotype … and reacted criminally. Had the kid been white, would Zimmerman have found reason to employ the use of a gun?”
Students who viewed the incident as a hate crime held rallies, including a gathering at Hale Hall, home of OSU’s Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center, participated in protests and staged sit-ins.
Sable Wallace, a second-year in finance and president of OSU’s Black Student Association, said students’ calls for action were an effort to promote forward-thinking and educate the community about the issues of race and racial profiling.
“The Hale Center was actually filled to capacity, and we talked about ways to make sure this hatred doesn’t continue,” said Wallace, who was a member of BSA last year also. “We were just trying to get people aware of what was going on.”
However, not all members of the OSU community agreed that Martin’s murder was a hate crime, a fact that was made public after “Long Live Zimmerman” was spray painted on the west wall of Hale Hall last April.
The vandalism prompted a sit-in at the Ohio Union the same week, according to Lantern archives, during which students pushed for a hate crime alert system.
Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, vice president of the Office of Student Life, said OSU strives to be inclusive and worked diligently to meet this demand, sending out an alert the same day.
“We want our climate to be one in which everyone feels appreciated,” Adams-Gaston said. “When we have that type of vandalism, we need to address it swiftly and directly … because it is damaging to that climate.”
Since then, President E. Gordon Gee also commissioned a No Place for Hate Task Force, led by Adams-Gaston and Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Valerie Lee to examine the climate and culture of the university, including particular issues like diversity awareness.
Adams-Gaston said Student Life has also seen an increase in student leadership.
“Another really exciting thing that’s come out has been student leadership in establishing a ‘No Place for Hate Week’ from April 1 – 5,” she said. “It’s student-led and student-driven and focuses on cultivating awareness, so we’re really excited about that.”
Such efforts have not gone unnoticed by students like Wallace, who expressed gratitude for the hate crime alerts.
Jeffries said he was pleased with university and student efforts, but one thing remains obvious to him.
“Racism is alive and well, and not scheduled to go anywhere anytime soon,” Jeffries said.
But even so, as Zimmerman’s June 10 trial draws near, Wallace said she wants Americans to take away one important message.
“I hope people will take race out of every argument and look at the context of what’s really going on. Look at the obvious,” Wallace said. “We shouldn’t be divided; it shouldn’t be white or black. We should all just be one nation.”
Martin was returning home from a convenience store in Sanford, Fla., when he was allegedly gunned down by Zimmerman.
Zimmerman originally spotted Martin and called 911 to report a “suspicious” male, but he was advised by the police dispatcher not to pursue him. Disregarding orders, Zimmerman approached Martin, who allegedly assaulted him.
Zimmerman allegedly then drew his gun and fired.
Zimmerman said it was self-defense, which is protected under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” legislation.
“Stand Your Ground” is a law that permits a person “who is not engaged in unlawful activity and who is attacked … to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force … to prevent death or great bodily harm,” according to the official website of Florida Legislature.
Zimmerman is currently awaiting trial and has pleaded not guilty.