November 23, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
49°F
test

Trayvon Martin shooting inspires gathering in Ely Square

ELYRIA — Sanford, Fla., is about 17 hours and 1,040 miles from Elyria, but the racially tinged Feb. 26 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has hit close to home for some residents.

“This could’ve been my son,” said Elyria resident Rita Nelson, one of several speakers at the Elyria Hoodie Rally in Support of Justice for Trayvon Martin on Friday evening at Ely Square. “There’s a lot of women like myself who have young men, and they don’t want them to be profiled, but they seem to be profiled every time you turn around.”

George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch member accused of killing Trayvon, has not been charged. Zimmerman, who had frequently called police in the last year about people and situations he found suspicious, said the slaying was in self-defense, but protesters believe it was a racially based murder.

They cited several reasons: Trayvon was said to be unarmed. Zimmerman allegedly disregarded a police dispatcher’s instruction to stop following Trayvon, who Zimmerman said was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and acting suspiciously; a remark in a 911 tape made by Zimmerman, who is Latino, about Trayvon, who was black. On the 911 tape obtained by Florida television station WFTV, Zimmerman can be heard saying what some people say sounds like “f——- coons” as he followed Trayvon.

Trayvon was walking home after buying a can of iced tea and Skittles, and some of the 45 protesters who turned out in the rain carried iced tea and Skittles in tribute. The impromptu, racially mixed rally was organized Thursday on Facebook by Elyria resident Traci Wolford.

Wolford said the racial profiling that protesters accuse Zimmerman of is practiced by police, including in Elyria.

“It’s not fair to be pulled over just because you’re in your car at 10 p.m., and you happen to not be white,” she told protesters. “If this surprises any of you coming from a Caucasian woman, it’s because I’ve seen it. I grew up here on the south side of Elyria. I know what goes on.”

Reached by phone after the rally, Police Chief Duane Whitely said his officers don’t profile and must have “probable cause” and “reasonable suspicion” to stop people.

Whitely said he didn’t have enough information on Trayvon’s killing to comment, but in general, “we have to be able to show there’s self-defense to not charge somebody.”

Whitely and Holly Huff, coordinator of the Cascade-Furnace Street Blockwatch Association, said neighborhood watch members are instructed to call police if they see someone suspicious, but never to pursue them or to try to apprehend them.

“I found it completely wrong,” Huff said by phone of the killing. “We don’t condone taking the law into our own hands.”

Huff, who helped form the approximately 50-member block watch association in 2007, said it holds neighborhood cleanups and an annual picnic, but the primary purpose is as an extra set of eyes for police.

“You’ve always got that one extremist, (but) I don’t think it’s a bad mark on the block watch,” she said. “The block watch has done a lot of good things.”

In addition to Zimmerman being charged, protesters want to change guilty-until-proven-innocent attitudes that some people have about young blacks like Trayvon.

“This young man is not going to be able to get married, go to college, have kids, hold a career, nothing. He’s done. He’s gone,” said Elyria resident and Superintendent of Services Gary Dickerson, a father of four. “I look at my own boys and see the same thing. It could’ve been them.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.