When Linda Lawson found out her sister’s unborn child was a boy, her first feeling was not excitement. It was fear.
“I immediately knew as a black man in America, (my family) was going to have to protect him differently,” Lawson said. “And you try to find a way to make him understand because the color God made you, there’s nothing wrong with that, but sometimes the world sees you differently.
“And when you walk out that door you have to be careful what you say to police, and what you say to people because there’s this automatic reaction just because you are a black man. And that’s a different load to carry than from a black girl. It’s a heavier load. It’s an unfair load.”
Lawson, 47, of East St. Louis, said her 13-year-old nephew is a lot like Trayvon Martin — happy-go-lucky, idealistic and very innocent. She stood on the edge of a pavilion in Tower Grove Park, trying to shield herself from the heavily pouring rain on March 23. She and hundreds of others came together that night for a vigil and rally in remembrance of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
On Feb. 26, Trayvon Martin walked to a convenience store in Sanford, Fla. where he bought Skittles and tea. He wore his sweatshirt hood on his head. On his way back to a family member’s home
from the store, 28-year-old George Zimmerman grew suspicious of Trayvon Martin, called 911 repeatedly and eventually shot and killed him.
Lawson, like many, wants answers. They want Zimmerman arrested.
“As long as God allows me to stand on this Earth, I will never understand,” Lawson said. “I cannot understand how Zimmerman could look that boy in the face, and you hear that last pitiful, ‘help me,’ (on the 911 call) before he shoots him. I don’t understand how a human being can do that to another human being.”
The rain beat steadily from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the umbrellas and hoodies of those not underneath the pavilion’s roof. The crowd listened to activists, politicians and pastors, and yelled out, “No Justice! No Peace!” when emotions ran high.
Rachel Lee, a 2003 Webster University alumna, organized the vigil and was first to speak to the crowd.
“We’ve read the articles, right? We’ve put the pieces together, right? We’ve heard the 911 calls, right? We’ve heard the witness’ testimonies, right? We’ve all had conversations about it, right? So, what happened?” Lee said.
After Trayvon Martin’s death, Lee waited weeks to hear that Sanford police arrested Zimmerman. She never got the news. While talking to a friend, Lee said someone needed to do something.
“(My friend) said why don’t you do it?” Lee said.
Then, Lee started to organize the vigil, and what she thought would be a group of 40-50 people gathering, turned into hundreds.
“Kids die everyday and I think we’ve become desensitized to it. And it shouldn’t be that way. We should be able to protect our kids and protect our communities,” Lee said. “But one person can’t do it by his or herself. We all have to do it together. Those rare moments of people recognizing that with community anything is possible. That’s why it got so big. I feel this way and 500 other people happen to feel the same way.”
Posters and clothing bore the words, “I am Trayvon Martin,” and, “My sons look like Trayvon Martin.” Tommie Liddell III, 26, of East St. Louis, kept the hood of his black jacket on his head as he stood silently during the vigil. In white writing, the back of his shirt read, “I am Trayvon Martin.” His father, Tommie Liddell II, also of East St. Louis, wore a black T-shirt with the same writing on his back. Tommie Liddell II is a friend of Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin’s father, who is also from East St. Louis.
“Tracy’s appreciating all the love he’s getting. But, we’ve got a lot of work to do. We have to keep on fighting until George Zimmerman is arrested,” Tommie Liddell II said. “It’s personal for me. I’m going to keep sending emails, talking to people, and doing whatever I can to keep this from dying down.”
Pastor Dietra Wise of Liberation Christian Church is a chaplain for Episcopal City Mission and works in juvenile detentions in St. Louis city and county. Wise said despite working with black boys everyday she still sometimes fears them.
“When I see their hoods my heart beats a little faster. Fear begins to crawl from my mind into my body. George Zimmerman is not the only one afraid of black boys,” Wise said to the crowd. “We have been infected with images of fear, violence and suspicion…But before we demand justice — and we are going demand justice — but before we do that, we must take the speck out of our own eye.
We are here because we need healing. Our imaginations of black boys need healing. Can we see them as strong, responsible, caring, loyal, loving, disciplined? Can we stand by them just as much in life as much as we stand by them in death? Can we remain, reclaim and reimagine black boys?”
Reverend Starsky Wilson of St. John’s United Church of Christ, advised the crowd to become more active in their schools, churches and neighborhoods to help prevent similar situations from happening in St. Louis.
“Go home and knock on the door of the neighbor you don’t know,” Wilson said. “This can organize our neighborhoods so vigilantes can’t take over the neighborhood like George Zimmerman took over this situation.”
He finished his speech with a prayer.
“Will you all pray with me?” he said to the crowd. “Put your hoodies on if you got them.”
After Wilson concluded his prayer, the crowd sang “Amazing Grace.” Lee finished out the vigil with another prayer.
“Our brother Ghandi reminded us that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” Lee said. “So, it is not revenge we seek. It is justice. It is peace. It is hope.”