ANDERSON, Ind. — A few years ago, Lindsay Brown was in line at a home improvement store. A white man also in line approached Brown, who is black, and apologized. Brown was confused.
“I finally understand what your people have gone through for years,” the man said.
The man was a former steel worker, and with the economic downturn, had been unable to find work. Brown felt for the man, but he also came to a realization: sometimes it takes a bad situation for everyone to bring attention to mistreatment that’s been happening for decades.
Brown and other black community leaders will lead a rally today to bring attention to injustices that are still happening, including, they say, the verdict of not guilty for George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin murder case. Brown, president of the Madison County Urban League, is arranging the event in conjunction with the National Action Network’s 100 Cities Across America Rally for Civil Rights set for today.
Brown and other organizers are expecting a large turnout for the noon rally, which will be held at the Madison County Government Center, 16 E. Ninth St. There will be speeches from the Unity Coalition, pastors and other community leaders. He said he wants the rally to be positive and motivational, not angry or vengeful.
“It’s sad that things like this need to happen to try to get things corrected, but sometimes these things can be a blessing in disguise,” Brown said. “Now, everyone can actually see it.”
A second rally was announced Friday. Set for 10 a.m. Saturday at the government center, a group calling itself Friends of Trayvon have said they will walk around the government center to protest “stand your ground” laws. Florida had the first such law which allows citizens to use self-defense if they feel they are being confronted by deadly force or imminent danger.
The rallies come on the heels of the controversial verdict out of Sanford, Fla. Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed African American, was shot and killed by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, on Feb. 26, 2012. A six-member jury affirmed Zimmerman’s claim that he was acting in self-defense and found him not guilty of murder.
Brown said the outcome illuminated a gray area in self-defense laws, and has troubled the black community. He cited another Florida case of Marissa Alexander, a mother who is serving a 20-year sentence for firing a warning shot at her reportedly abusive husband.
“We just want equal justice, equal treatment, equal protection under the law. The value people place on the lives of African Americans is still a blatant problem in this country. And the problem is, a lot of people don’t realize they’re racist,” Brown said.
Brown said many people subconsciously place blacks in a different social class in many areas of life, an effective brainwashing that’s been reinforced throughout the years. He hopes the rally and others like it across the country bring attention to the issue.
“People don’t always realize it, but it happens,” Brown said.
Many Americans might think the days of prejudice are a thing of the past. Overt discrimination, perhaps, but Floyd Edwards fears it has given rise to a more subtle and sophisticated racism.
“We say we’re one nation and we’ve moved on, but [the Martin case] shows discrimination is still present, and we still have a lot to do,” said Edwards, the head of Anderson’s Human Relations Department, which investigates complaints of discrimination.
Edwards said he will not be able to attend most of the rally, but feels bringing attention to the issue and encouraging discourse is part of the solution. He said African Americans had to push to move forward in the Martin murder: the investigation, the charges and the trial. Young black men are especially being targeted and profiled, and without discussion, the stereotypes are likely to remain with more lives at risk, Edwards said.
He said one of the forms the new, subtle racism takes is a renewed movement for segregation in schools. Even with compulsory integration since the 1960s, many schools are predominately one race. Today, vouchers are available for parents who want their children in charter or private schools, proliferating a new segregation, he said.
“It starts young. We need to raise our children together so we can start understanding one another. And that needs to be a discussion at home early on, to treat everyone equally,” Edwards said.
The Martin case grabbed the attention of local law enforcement, particularly officers like Anderson Police Department’s Chad Boynton, who coordinates the Neighborhood Crime Watch program in the city’s five districts.
He said the case sparked a need to discuss and clarify the role of citizens in the watch program at monthly meetings around the city.
“The purpose is to be vigilant, keep eyes and ears open and report any suspicious activities to the police,” Boynton said. “We aren’t asking anyone to put themselves in danger or confrontations. Being an active member also doesn’t give you police powers.”
In a time when resources are at a premium, programs like Neighborhood Crime Watch are as important as ever, he said. They provide a link between law enforcement and the community and keep police up to date on real issues in neighborhoods.
“We’re always wary and conscientious of that danger. If there’s ever an issue, we try to resolve that as fast as possible. Every problem we’ve had in the past has been easily remedied,” Boynton said.
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Today's rallies Two public rallies are scheduled for today in conjunction with civil rights issues. Unity Leadership Coalition The Unity Leadership Coalition will sponsor a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Rally in conjunction with National Action Network's "100 Cities Across America Rally for Civil Rights." When: Noon to 1 p.m. today Where: Madison County Government Center, 16 E. Ninth St. The Unity Coalition is an advocacy group comprised of various civic, religious and community based organizations in the Anderson area. For information, call 617-0059 or 810-3933. Friends of Trayvon "Friends of Trayvon" has scheduled a peaceful rally. They will meet in front of and march around the Madison County Government Center for one hour in protest of "Stand Your Ground" laws. When: 10 a.m. today Where: Madison County Government Center, 16 E. Ninth St. Those participating are asked to not block sidewalks by stepping aside and respectfully allowing others to pass and to not block the entrance to the government center.