When roll call at the Birmingham City Council meeting came around to Councilor Jay Roberson on Tuesday, he answered. “Present,” Roberson said, “for Trayvon.”
Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old who was shot and killed on Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman, a Hispanic neighborhood watch officer, claims he was attacked by Martin and acted in self-defense, and has not been charged in connection to Martin’s death. Martin was unarmed—he was found carrying iced tea and Skittles candy. In the weeks since Martin’s death, the fact that Zimmerman wasn’t arrested has ignited a controversy and a “Justice for Trayvon” movement, which has led to gatherings across the country, including a candlelight vigil for Martin at Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park on Sunday.
The four male members of the City Council — President Roderick Royal, President Pro Tem Steven Hoyt, Johnathan Austin and Roberson — wore hooded sweatshirts, or hoodies, on the dais. The hoodie has become a symbol of the shooting among Martin’s sympathizers, symbolism fueled in part by comments made Friday by FOX News host Geraldo Rivera.
“I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was,” Rivera said. Rivera later apologized for his remarks.
Martin was wearing a hoodie when he was shot.
“I been down this road before,” Councilor Hoyt said while holding back tears. His nephew was killed in a random shooting, and he said his sister is still struggling with her son’s death. “One murder is too much, but when you have constantly—not only in Birmingham but throughout this country — you don’t know the pain, the suffering of all these parents.”
“It’s too much. It’s too much. But I realize that it all begins with parenting,” Hoyt said. “I want to say to the parents of Mr. Martin that we feel your pain, we really do.”
Roberson also mentioned parenting. “There’s a plague across America. There’s a plague that African-American males are going by the wayside.”
“We need jobs. We need opportunities. We need good education. Parents need to start being parents.” He called on the males on the council and others to “stand up” and do something about young black males. “Principals stand up, teachers stand up. Let’s be men. And I say that with all sincerity.”
Councilor Austin said senseless acts of violence have to stop. “It reminds me of a friend that I had that was killed when I was in high school,” Austin said. “As I was watching the news this morning, one of the commenters said that we, as African-American men, have to constantly walk around with targets on our backs. This has to stop. This is 2012.”
“We are taking a stand today as Council members and saying that we demand justice for Trayvon Martin and his family,” Austin said.
“Who knows what Trayvon would have become, save for prejudice and vivid imagination,” Councilor Royal said. Later, responding to a rhetorical question from another councilor, Royal said he hoped that Tuesday’s showing of unity with Martin and his family moved just “one person stop to think before pulling the trigger.”
“If we cause one person to think before he or she acts, then we’ve been successful today.”
The council also voted Tuesday to make Martin an honorary citizen of Birmingham.