South LA residents discuss Trayvon verdict and next steps to move forward

The same day that President Barack Obama addressed the state of race relations in the United States and less than a week after George Zimmerman was acquitted on self-defense grounds for killing the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the local nonprofit Community Coalition hosted a neighborhood reunion called “Our Sons Matter” to discuss reactions to the verdict and develop next steps to move forward.

The reunion, held at Community Coalition’s headquarters, was highly emotional and served two important purposes: on the one hand, it was a place where people could speak their minds, express their feelings and heal their wounds; on the other hand, it was also a brainstorming session where people provided ideas on what they can do as a community to react to the recent acquittal.

In order to give everyone a chance to participate and contribute their thoughts, the neighbors who assisted at the event were separated into groups from around eight to ten people. Each group, led by a moderator, had approximately 20 minutes to communicate their thoughts and formulate suggestions on how to move ahead and address the situation.

When this was done, the groups shared their suggestions. Changing state and local gun laws such as “Stand Your Ground” was one of the ideas that most resonated with the participants. Coincidentally, this was also one of the ideas proposed by President Obama on Friday. He said he thought it would be useful to examine certain laws to see if they are designed in such a way that they encourage the kind of altercations and confrontations that were seen in the Florida case.

“I just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws,” said President Obama.

Another important idea proposed during the meeting was that it is necessary to improve the relationship between the community and the police. President Obama also addressed this issue and suggested that it is important to work with law enforcement to reduce racial profiling.

During his speech, Mr. Obama said that mayors, governors and the Justice Department should “work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.”

A few other ideas that community members came up with included the importance of inspiring civic engagement as well as creating a sense of self-worth among the community. Along similar lines, President Obama said he was thinking of ways to empower African American young men.

“There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement,” President Obama said. “And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?”

We Matter

Toward the end of the community gathering, participants were encouraged to share pictures of someone they love that matters to them and explain why that person has been so important in their life. This intimate, moving and heartwarming moment symbolized the unity of the community. Residents are standing together and looking ahead to the future with hope.


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