An unarmed young man gunned down, his promising life cut short. Grieving parents who are left to wonder what could have been. Angry residents and community leaders demanding accountability for the loss of life. It's a tragic scenario that is too familiar within the black community.
Hundreds of area residents converged at The Big Chair in Southeast on March 23 to pray for the family of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer last month in Sanford, Fla, in late February. George Zimmerman, who admitted to following and killing the youth despite calling 911, remains free and has neither been arrested nor charged in the case.
"If we don't stand up, next week it will be your son," Archbishop George Stallings Jr. told the crowd. "There is no excuse, the racial profiling in 2012, because that's what it was."
After the speech, Stallings, who is the senior pastor of Imani Temple on Capitol Hill, mentioned that what happened to Trayvon could have happened not only in the District, but in suburbs such as Landover, Suitland, and Arlington. During his speech, Stallings held up a pack of Skittles, along with a can of iced tea -- items that Trayvon was holding in his hand on that fateful day.
"If we don't stand together on this issue, we will perish together as fools," Stallings said after he had spoken to the crowd.
The Friday evening prayer vigil was organized by the local chapter of the National Black United Front (NBUF), a community-based organization that deals with political and social issues.
Johnathan Medlock, vice chairman for the D.C. chapter of NBUF, recalled what went through his mind upon hearing about Trayvon's murder.
"Heartbreaking," said Medlock, 39. "The next thing was the call to action. It's instinctual that you want to do something."
During the interfaith prayer vigil, members of the Nation of Islam moved throughout the crowd, selling copies of the recent edition of The Final Call, which had Trayvon's picture on the front page. The crowd held signs and T-shirts with Trayvon's name and likeness, and lighted candles.
"As a mother, as a grandmother, my heart goes out to all the young mothers," said Delores Hearst of Northwest. Hearst said she has a grandson who currently attends the University of Miami, and that she too wants justice for Trayvon.
Trayvon, who lived in Miami, was visiting his father in Sanford when he was killed. According to published reports, he was walking in a gated community after leaving a convenience store wearing a hoodie, when Zimmerman confronted him because he thought the teen was "up to no good," according to a taped conversation with a 911 dispatcher, who discouraged Zimmerman from following Trayvon. Zimmerman did not heed the request of the dispatcher.
The news of Trayvon's Feb. 26 murder has sparked online petitions, rallies, and protests. Public figures have also expressed support for Trayvon's family; members of the Miami Heat basketball team posed in a picture wearing hooded sweatshirts, and in a press conference, President Barack Obama said, "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon."
The U.S. Department of Justice has stepped in to handle the case, and a grand jury is set to convene in Florida next month.
"Society and people are still divided. We're just being treated unfairly, and it's time that someone is held accountable for this senseless violence," said Fred Riley, 34, of Southeast.
"It was a worthy cause," said Vicky Evans-McCrarey of the vigil, who attended the event. "These things will keep this alive and hopefully get the proper justice for this young man," said Evans-McCrarey, 57, who is also the president of the Mitchellville-Bowie chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, Inc.
According to NBUF National Vice Chairman Salim Adofo, the next course of action for the local chapter is to participate in a rally at the Justice Department's headquarters on March 26.
Hearst, the mother and grandmother from Northwest, hopes those who attended the prayer vigil take away a lesson from the event: "To have peace and love, organize," Hearst said. "So things like this won't happen again."