As a co-host for Keeping it Real with Rev. Al Sharpton, a nationally syndicated radio show, I have been asked on a few occasions why Sharpton, perhaps the nation’s foremost civil rights activist, is still marching after all these years. Last week, I offered an inquisitive listener a simple, three-word response to his question: Stand Your Ground.
It’s been open season on young black men in America for years and on Monday, Sharpton, radio personality Tom Joyner, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, parents of Trayvon Martin, Lucia McBath and Ron Davis, parents of Jordan Davis, and the family of Emmett Till, joined hundreds of African-American demonstrators who rallied in Tallahassee, Florida to protest the state’s Stand Your Ground laws, which has been used unfairly by whites as a defense for shooting young black males.
On Monday, activists rallied outside the Florida State Capitol Building to urge lawmakers to re-evaluate the Stand Your Ground law and repeal the law altogether. Others are asking for changes such as restrictions and training for neighborhood watch volunteers. Stand Your Ground allows people to use of force to defend themselves if they feel threatened and has resulted in two high-profile deaths of 17-year-old teens in Florida over the past two years.
“It’s a flawed law,” Sharpton told demonstrators. “Because you don’t need an actual threat. All you’ve got to do is believe a threat and you can use deadly force.” “Florida is the first state to enact the law in 2005,” Sharpton said. “We came back to where it started to begin where it will end.”
The Florida legislature’s House Criminal Justice Subcommittee rejected a full repeal of the Stand Your Ground law in November and that’s why I believe in marching for justice is still necessary in 2014. Maybe I’m old school, but social justice movements evolve and are driven by the issues of the moment.
Stand Your Ground is the critical issue of the moment. In fact, it’s a crisis facing young black men. I also believe that marches are important for young people of color – our leaders of tomorrow – to embrace social justice movements as catalysts to get involved in community service and political activism.
Last month marked the second anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s senseless death. The unarmed teenager was gunned down by neighborhood watchman/wannabe cop George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida while walking home from a convenience store.
If anything, the “Stand Your Ground” law has worked to show us that for some whites, black life – and the lives of black males in particular –means absolutely nothing. More recently, Jordan Davis, another unarmed teenager was shot and killed in Jacksonville, Florida, by Michael Dunn, a white engineer, simply because the music playing in the car Davis was riding in too loud.
And let’s not forget Garrick Hopkins, 60, and Carl Hopkins Jr., 61, two brothers from West Virginia who were shot and killed by a white man, Rodney Bruce Black, 62, who thought the Hopkins brothers were trespassing on his land – when in fact, they were inspecting a shed on their own property.
“You have woke us up, and we are never going to sleep!” Sharpton told the crowd.
This is why Sharpton is still marching. And I say, march on Rev, march on.