Trayvon Martin's mom urges Black St. Louisans to vote and become jurors to fight for justice
The mother of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin urged people in the St. Louis region to vote in local elections and people of color to participate in jury duty to help more Black families receive justice through the nation’s court system.
Sybrina Fulton delivered the keynote speech about hope and justice as a part of St. Louis University and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis’ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. tribute, which leads up to the King’s national birthday celebration on Monday.
On Feb. 26, 2012, her 17-year-old Black son was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer while walking home from a convenience store. A jury found George Zimmerman, a white and Hispanic man, not guilty of second-degree murder. Fulton spoke about Martin’s killer’s trial and said the justice system is not always fair to Black people.
“I didn't understand how the jurors didn't understand that, that was a 17-year-old, that was unarmed, that was minding his own business,” Fulton said. “And the person that shot and killed him had no right to follow him and chase him and pursue him with a loaded gun.”
She says if more people of color would have been jurors during her son’s trial, the verdict may have come back different.
Fulton explained to the Urban League’s CEO and president, Michael McMillan during their fireside chat at the university that from the beginning of the trial all she wanted was justice for her son. She said in the 10 years since his death, many more Black unarmed men and women have been killed by police officers over the years.
“It's not just about Trayvon, although Trayvon is one of the ones that made a lot of people wake up,” Fulton said. “It reignited a nation to stick together and come together in unity, and force us to look at the evils of this world.”
St. Louis University President Fred Pestello said Dr. King’s speech on the university's campus on October 12, 1964, embodied unity and gave listeners a vision for a better future. However, he said King told the crowd the nation still has a long way to go.
“We have a long way to go at St. Louis University in the city of St. Louis, in this nation and in the world,” Pestello said. “We have the gift however, of Dr. King's hope and Dr. King's vision … hope motivates us to work together as a university within the St. Louis community, to broaden access to education and to healthcare.”
To explain how the nation is still grappling with how to ensure justice and equality the community must look at the past, Christopher Tinson, Associate Professor of History and chair of the African American Studies Department at St. Louis University said during the tribute.
“The belief that democracy itself was perfected here, that it will correct itself when needed, is how we got here. That dependence on imprisonments of marginalized voices ever made sense is how we got here,” Tinson said. “That it was better to have workers and working classes of people fighting over crumbs, than celebrating a livable wage is how we got here.”
Fulton envisions a future in which people support local organizations that empower Black people and help them achieve justice. She also encourages more young people to vote not only in presidential elections but in local elections.
“We don't always have the perfect politicians and the perfect people in place, [but] we need to make sure we have people that put people over politics and profit,” she said.