On Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, Trayvon Martin would have celebrated his 23rd birthday.
Six years ago, 17-year-old Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman after a 911 call about a “suspicious person” in a gated Sanford, Florida community led Zimmerman to confronting the unarmed teen.
Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges associated with Martin’s death in 2013.
“We’re not talking about it the way that we should,” said Ja’Loni Owens, a junior public policy major, who memorialized Martin on Feb. 26, the anniversary of his death, by scattering pieces of paper with the words “Black Lives Matter” around various places on campus.
Owens urged that they wanted people to be aware of the issues still actively hindering black individuals in America, especially for students of color attending a predominately white institution (PWI). The day after Owens placed these papers around campus, one was found with the word “Black” crossed out and “All” written in its place.
“… We’re not treated the way we should be on this campus,” Owens said. “There should be a social awareness about the outside world; even though the campus kind of provides a bubble for some of us, that doesn’t mean that everything outside that bubble doesn’t still exist.”
After the exoneration of the NYPD officer responsible for the July 2014 killing of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black man who was choked to death on a sidewalk in Staten Island, Owens recalled being told that members of Hofstra’s Black Student Union were sought after by administrators following silent protests where they drew outlines of bodies on the floor to emulate a crime scene.
“They tried to fine the organization, saying it was vandalism … It was Crayola sidewalk chalk,” Owens said, vocalizing their frustration with how administrators handle students’ requests to peacefully protest. “When we go through the proper protocol to organize demonstrations, it’s such an extensive process; it’s so lengthy.”
Owens said that it’s especially difficult to organize immediate response protests, as paperwork must be submitted to the university weeks in advance.
“That’s not how tragedies happen. We don’t get a heads up that another black person is going to be killed, or that there’s going to be another bombing abroad or a mass shooting,” Owens stated.
One place that Owens meticulously placed a piece of paper that day was on a controversial figurine that is certainly not novel to students opposing its existence on campus: the Thomas Jefferson sculpture located at the entrance of the Sondra and David S. Mack Student Center.
“Students have been protesting to get that statue taken down for at least 13 years,” Owens said.
They expressed the faulty connotation associated with having the third president of the United States, openly criticized by the public for owning numerous slaves on his plantation in Virginia, including many women in which he raped, as a welcoming figure.
“To try to put that into a love story is really appalling,” Owens said, referring to persons who claim Jefferson’s ties to Sally Hemings, an enslaved young woman likely to have birthed six of his children, were through a consensual relationship. “[This statue] testifies to a greater issue as well. The fact that we have this man who has raped so many woman, who owned people … It’s really disturbing to me, and to a lot of students.”
“We’re not immune; there’s racism everywhere,” Owens said about the belief that racism only directly affects those living in the South. “It never went anywhere, it just kind of adapted. Like technology adapts, racism adapts.”
Owens hopes to “disturb this bubble” that people who are not of color have “built for themselves,” by continuing to engage in these kinds of demonstrations. They believe that by doing so, more students will be enlightened by the dire need to normally discuss issues of race and inequality.