Photos and text by DAVID CORREIA
On the evening of February 26, 2012, seventeen-year old Trayvon Martin left his father’s fiance’s house in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community in Sanford, Florida where he was visiting. He walked over to a local shop looking for skittles and maybe a soda. Local resident and neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman saw Martin when he was returning to Twin Lakes. The armed Zimmerman called the local police department telling the dispatcher that ”this guy looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something… these assholes, they always get away.”
What made Zimmerman so suspicious? He had a pattern of targeting young, Black men, frequently calling in reports to local police of “suspicious” looking people. Zimmerman starts stalking Martin and minutes later can be heard on the tape of the call yelling “he’s running.” ”Which way is he running?” asks the dispatcher. But Zimmerman doesn’t answer. He’s running after Trayvon Martin, gun in hand. When the dispatcher realizes that Zimmerman is in pursuit, the dispatcher tells him to back off. ”We don’t need you to do that,” they tell him. Within minutes Trayvon Martin is dead, chased down and shot to death by the vigilante Zimmerman.
George Zimmerman was eventually charged with second-degree murder. On July 13, 2013 an all-white jury found Zimmerman not guilty. In the days after the verdict, outraged people everywhere held rallies and vigils to remember Trayvon Martin and condemn the kind of racist violence that made both Trayvon Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict possible.
One of those vigils was held in Albuquerque. Nearly 200 people rallied at the southern end of Bataan park on Wednesday, July 17, 2013.
A number of people organized the vigil, including Eve, above, who convened the vigil by talking about the need to bear witness for all the victims of violence, whether because of racism, gender oppression, or homophobia. She asked every person there to speak up, tell everyone your name and tell everyone who you stood vigil for. For 90 emotional minutes, people introduced themselves and talked about their anger and their need to remember Trayvon Martin. Many people reminded the crowd about other victims of violence and hatred: Tera Chavez, the victims of drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, those incarcerated in jails in Albuquerque and elsewhere, and on and on. At the end, Eve ended the vigil by telling all those in attendance that “what we did here today was a revolutionary act.”
Eve distributed candles to people as the vigil began, telling people that groups from all over the city donated them. “Immigrant rights groups donated them, LGBTQ groups donated them, civil rights groups donated them” she told the crowd.
Leonard (right) came to the vigil with his brother Edward. Like many people in the crowd, they wore hoodies in solidarity with Trayvon Martin.
A number of people from the ANSWER coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) attended the vigil, including Preston. Members of the ANSWER coalition have been vocal critics of racialized police violence in Albuquerque.
Dinah Vargas and her niece Isabella made a series of beautiful signs for the vigil. She also brought candles that she made, including one to remember Tera Chavez. Tera’s alleged killer, APD officer Levi Chavez, was found not guilty of her murder.
Vernon Butler, who works with the group “Advocates for Equity,” located structural causes for racialized violence in a passionate plea. “I challenge everyone here to tell their children that when the schools tell them to recite the pledge of allegiance, those kids say it like this: I don’t pledge allegiance to the flag of the hypocritical United States of America, one nation, under God, indivisible which it has never been, with liberty and justice only for those that can afford it.”
Joseph Powdrell, past president of the local chapter of the NAACP in Albuquerque, reminded the crowd that the kind of racist violence that happened in Sanford, Florida happens all the time in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When we talked briefly after the vigil he told me that he’s proud of his work with the NAACP but “my most precious title is, Steward for Democracy. We’ve got to do something about this violence.”
Amber brought her father Robert with her to attend the vigil to remember Trayvon. When it was her turn to speak she said that she came because she knew that her father, born and raised in Tuskegee, Alabama, knew exactly the kind of fear Trayvon felt on the night he was killed by Zimmerman. When he was young, Robert’s mother moved the family to New Mexico. His mother worked for the Indian health service and the family lived on and around the Navajo nation. Robert met a Navajo woman and they had Amber, who was born in Gallup. “My parents just aren’t afraid of people who are different than them.”
Malcolm, a nineteen-year old UNM student, attended the rally with his mother, Ramona. Both spoke at the vigil. Ramona reminded all that unity was essential if we were going to interrupt racism. Malcolm wondered what kind of person Trayvon Martin would have been. “There’s no telling what Trayvon could have done.”