I was unfortunately unable to attend a rally on Park Square Friday to protest the injustice to Trayvon Martin, the Florida youth whose murder has angered millions and reinvigorated national discussions about race, guns and violence.
100-150 people gathered to take part in this important action, part of an increasing wave of gatherings as the cry for justice in Martin’s tragic and unnecessary death reaches a nationwide roar. Organizers and participants spoke eloquently about the significance of these events, local and nationally.
The local outcry over Travyvon Martin happens to coincide with the sentencing of Terrance Brown in the 2010 stabbing death of Jahda Martin, which took place less 50 yeards from where the rally took place. The coincidence reminds us that issues of crime and violence are broad in scope, complicated, and very much a local concern.
The emerging picture of what happened to Trayvon should be a reminder as Pittsfield goes forward with its growing neighborhood watch initiatives, that they must be absolutely vigilant of those whose motivations and agendas are grounded in racial, ethnic, or cultural prejudices. I hear a lot of talk about the “wrong elements” inhabiting Pittsfield, on North Street and elsewhere, and while sometimes this is in reference to legitimate concerns and actual criminal activity, all too often these veer into judgements based on race, on appearance, on clothing, hairstyle, what music someone is listening to or whether they’re carrying a skateboard. These are not issues that only effect other communities- the attitudes and ideologies that lead to such tragedies are alive and well in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Trayvon’s death and the justice system’s failure to properly take action on it are a painful example of the disastrous results that come of creating a civic culture based on superficial judgements and stereotypes rather than factual, behavioral realities.
Police and local residents need to make every possible effort to see that initiatives to address crime in the community retain their perspective, their internal vigilance, their respect for all people, and their humanity.