As the temperature neared 100, around 200 people turned out for a “Justice for Trayvon” rally in Norfolk, VA. Musicians, spoken word performers, and speakers decried the violence that engulfs many communities and “threatens our generation.” Speakers also took a decidedly political edge, however, urging attendees to “stand their ground” at the ballot box every election year.
“Don’t just turn out every four years,” one speaker urged the crowd. “Vote every election. Stand your ground at the ballot box.”
The event was more overtly political than the muted rally across the Bay in Newport News that launched the nationwide day of rallies and vigils. At that event on Saturday morning, around 25 people said prayers and listened to spiritual hymns.
As evidence of the political tone of the event, a few white MoveOn.org organizers threaded their way through the crowd, collecting attendees’ contact info. Tellingly, one of these organizers approached me and asked, “who are you with,” as if I wouldn’t be attending the event on my own accord.
The Trayvon Martin case itself was lifted out of the local crime blotter last year and used by national political figures as an organizing and voter turnout tool. The tragic events in Florida have been used by Al Sharpton and even President Obama to sow feelings of division among the American public.
A few speakers from a teen spoken word troupe spoke passionately about the crime that is rampant in many communities. “I clips obituaries like I clip coupons,” one youth noted. One group did a “count down” to the destruction of their generation from the endemic violence. Another speaker said that the Trayvon case was especially tragic because “he actually had a father. There was a father in his life.”
The speeches and comments went far deeper than the simple narrative of race and discrimination peddled by people like Al Sharpton. The event was held across from a federal courthouse, but also just a few blocks away from a massive public housing development.
About half of Norfolks’ 250,000 population are minorities. On Saturday, about 200 showed up to air their fears and concerns. It went far beyond one Florida teenager. The conversation ought to go far beyond MoveOn.org and Al Sharpton.