Amid the media firestorm and nationwide outcry regarding George Zimmerman’s acquittal there are those looking to channel their emotions into actions. And in a forum held at the National Civil Rights Museum on July 24th, Memphians were able to do just that.
With three panelists and more than 60 audience members present, issues surrounding the Trayvon Martin trial, racism and privilege were heavily explored and dissected throughout the meeting. Panelist Gee Joyner, a professor at Lemoyne-Owen College, opined that white privilege played heavily in both rendering the verdict and in general conversations about race, stating, “you can’t be empathetic if you haven’t lived it.”
Cultural misunderstandings and prejudices were also cited as factors surrounding the case. Fellow panelist Isaac Kimes, board member of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, spoke of a trial he witnessed where a man was wrongly convicted of murder because jurors presumed his teardrop tattoos to equal the number of people he had killed. After consulting with a gang expert and tattoo expert it was later determined the tattoos symbolized friends of the man who had died and the verdict was overturned.
Also of note was a refrain that has been echoed by many throughout the trial—what about black on black crime? Panelist Robert Bain, owner of the Joysmith Gallery, repeatedly quoted a statistic that 93 percent of African-American teens who are killed are killed by other African-American teens. In addressing the audience, Bain asked where was the forum to discuss those issues. He called for action within black communities to put the “neighbor” back into “neighborhood” and said community involvement is key to protecting young black men from systemic injustice and injustice from one another.
While a great deal of the audience members who spoke voiced their anger about the verdict and concerns about the message it sends to young black men, all were in agreement that action must be taken to rectify the racial issues brought to the surface by the case.
Director of Education and Interpretation Barbara Andrews sees these forums as “a great start” to beginning dialogues about difficult subject matters and a means to getting citizens more involved in government and their own communities. Plans are underway to keep the discussion going and to continue working for change in Memphis and beyond. A second forum will be scheduled shortly for August.