At East Side Community, a Stand Against Racial Profiling

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Sometimes real life walks off the front pages and into the classroom. How should schools and teachers handle those moments? On Tuesday afternoon, SchoolBook is holding "Teach-In: How to Bring Tough Conversations into the Classroom" at the Greene Space/WNYC, where educators can discuss how they dealt with such matters as the Trayvon Martin shooting. Students at East Side Community School on the Lower East Side were outraged over the fatal shooting of Mr. Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, by a community watchdog in Florida, so they organized "Hoodie Day." This is how their school newspaper, The East Sider, covered the demonstration, in the April issue. The article has been lightly edited.

Keturah Hancock
10th Grade
The East Sider
East Side Community School

The murder of an unarmed teenager in Florida has sent the country in an uproar. People of all races are equally outraged about the death of the 17-year-old African American named Trayvon Martin.

On the night of February 26, Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. Zimmerman called the Sanford Police claiming suspicious behavior by Trayvon.

When the Student Government and the East Side Activists heard about the hoodie rallies going on all over the country for Trayvon Martin, we wanted to participate. It was especially important for us to bring this to the students’ attention because most of us at East Side look like Trayvon. Because we are minorities, we are likely to be racially profiled.

On April 4, 2012, East Side supported Trayvon Martin by having a hoodie day. Students and teachers at East Side wore hoodies and carried Skittles and iced tea. At lunch, 100 students created a Public Service Announcement in the courtyard to show our solidarity with Trayvon Martin and to protest his killing. The experience of hoodie day was powerful and the number of students that wore hoodies showed that we all had a common goal: Justice for Trayvon.

Racial profiling is a form of discrimination by which law enforcement uses race or cultural background as the primary reason to suspect that the individual has broken the law. Racial profiling is for no other reason than their race and the stereotypes linked to it.

George Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon using many African American stereotypes. According to official transcripts released by the Sanford Police department, when Mr. Zimmerman called 911 the night of the incident, he told the dispatcher things like: “He looks suspicious, he looks like he’s on drugs or something, he looks like he’s up to no good, and he’s just hanging around.”

After these 911 tapes were released everyone had the same question: How does a kid with Skittles and iced tea look suspicious? George Zimmerman’s preconceived notion of black males allowed him to create a danger in his mind that was not there.

Having hoodie day at East Side showed that our youth are not criminals simply because we may wear a hoodie. The P.S.A. created during lunch sent a powerful message: "WE ARE TRAYVON.''

As students and activists, we showed our full support for Trayvon, his family and anybody else who has lost a loved one to senseless racial violence.

Social activists, social media, the mainstream media all helped bring this case to national attention. But as a young person, I am proud to say that we also played a major role.

No, Trayvon was not the first person to be killed because he was racially profiled. But this goes far beyond Trayvon. This is about shining light on the criminal stereotypes that people have of black people, black males in particular. But, we decided that this time they wouldn’t get away with killing yet another unarmed black teen.