For video coverage of this event, check out City on a Hill Press’ section on the website: www.sctv28.com.
Campuses across the nation including UC Santa Cruz held a National Day of Action on April 11 in response to the high-profile murder cases of high school junior Trayvon Martin and Iraqi-American mother of five Shaima Alawadi. Both cases have sparked a national dialogue on race and religion.
Student volunteers from the Student Union Assembly (SUA) and Muslim Student Association (MSA) participated in the National Day of Action for Martin and Alawadi at UCSC by tabling at the College Nine & Ten Dining Hall. Students participated by taking pictures in hoodies or hijabs (traditional Muslim head scarves) to symbolize Martin and Alawadi. They did this while holding up signs that read: “Justice 4 Trayvon and Shaima” and “I am 4 justice.”
Photographs from the event were immediately uploaded to the event’s Facebook page, where participants were encouraged to look for their photos and repost them to further spread awareness and promote dialogue regarding each case. By the end of the day, DT Amajoyi, Commissioner of diversity for the SUA, said that over 100 people had participated in the event.
Trayvon, 17, was an unarmed African American teenager who was fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Florida, according to the New York Times.
According to CBS news, Alawadi, 32, an Iraqi-American mother of five, was brutally beaten to death in her home in El Cajon, California. Next to her body a note was found stating: “Go back to your country, you terrorist.” However, recent analysis by the police has revealed that this note may have been a copy and could have come from paper in the house itself. According to the U-T San Diego, this indicates that the crime may not have been motivated by hate.
Amajoyi stated that attention on Martin’s case is based on the lack of police action and justice, and there is a possibility that race or ethnicity played a role in his murder.
“The whole Trayvon Martin case isn’t just a black issue, it’s an issue that people face if they’re a person of color,” said Amajoyi. “You’re always judged, either by a cultural marker like a hijab, or by the color of your skin.”
After the September 11, 2011 terrorists attacks, Muslim-Americans have endured an increasing amount of prejudices including racial profiling in airports and criminal profiling from the police.
Second-year molecular, cell and developmental biology major Hana Lejmi said she participated because she has faced preconceptions as a Muslim woman.
“Personally, wearing a headscarf on a daily basis, even when I am not wearing a headscarf, the moment [people] find out I am Muslim I encounter racism … the looks I get are demonizing,” Lajmi said.
Third-year psychology major and event participant Kim Pistilli said she wore a hijab to pay homage to Alawadi even though she did not identify with the Muslim faith.
“I am a white woman and I will never know what it means to be a Muslim woman or black man,” Pistilli said. “I have no experience of that, but I do think that everyone in some way has experienced hate in certain forms and I think that is what brings me to understand.”
Addressing racism and religious prejudice was an issue that many students cited as their main reason for participating in the event. Fourth-year political science major Blake Hooper said he identified with the alleged racism involved in Martin’s case.
“A few years back I had a friend who was more or less forced to be searched for similar reasoning,” Hooper said. “I pretty much despise ‘stand your ground’ laws. I find that it mostly masks racism with the excuse of ‘I can’t see’ or ‘It was dark.’ Events like this are a really good idea. They’re simple enough that everyone can come to them.”
During the protest, news broke that Martin’s shooter had been arrested on the charge of second-degree murder nearly two months after the shooting occurred.
“Finally some justice,” Amajoyi said. “I think that’s one of the biggest issues that some people had, that this 17-year-old boy was killed, and his killer was able to walk away, seemingly with no repercussions for his action. So whether or not people think this new charge is one that’s fitting for the situation, they will appreciate the fact that there is something being done, that there is a move toward justice.”
According to the Huffington Post, Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, stating that he acted in self-defense. Zimmerman’s attorney filed a request for a new judge, which was granted based on the grounds of a conflict of interest. The new judge will be Kenneth R. Lester, Jr., who is well-versed with cases of a similar nature. Zimmerman’s bail hearing was on April 20 and was released from jail on a $150,000 bail on April 22.