By Stephanie Ball
Government professors Bob Little and Ahad Hayaud-Din wave Brookhaven College students and employees into room K234 and ask them to find a seat near the front. Hayaud-Din places five microphones on the table and the seven panel members take their seats, looking out at the sea of faces in the full lecture hall. Hayaud-Din clears his throat and welcomes the audience to the Institute for Political Studies panel discussion of the Trayvon Martin case.
Martin was shot and killed Feb. 25 on his way to the home of a family friend, whom he was visiting. George Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch captain who has been charged with second degree murder in the case.
The panel, composed of Brookhaven professors and a student representative, participated in the IPS event, “The Social and Political Implications of the Trayvon Martin Case,” April 18.
Hayaud-Din said the panel was organized to discuss critical questions and help raise awareness and promote tolerance after the shooting of 17-year-old Martin gained national attention.
“I was actually planning events for next semester when this came up as an idea,” Hayaud-Din said. “I rushed around the past two weeks to put it together.”
To open the discussion, Hayaud-Din said, “This is the buzz of the campus, national media and robust national conversation about social and racial injustice.”
The panel shared professional, academic and personal perspectives on the Martin case.
Little discussed the seriousness of the race issue and suggested comparing the history of race issues in Sanford, Fla., to those of Dallas.
“This is more than a black and white issue,” Little said. “It emphasizes the need for dialogue.”
Greg Jacobs, sociology professor, began his statement by joking he could take two hours to discuss the topic.
Jacobs said he perceived three major issues in the Martin case: racial thinking, the culture of guns in America and fear. He said when facts are unclear, people attribute stereotypes to others out of fear.
“The stereotype of young black men being dangerous has lived on,” Jacobs said. “Something in our culture is very fearful.”
He said these problems will exist until people have an open dialogue about all three issues. Jerrod Scott, philosophy professor, said he could relate to the issue of being labeled as different because of race due to his experience of attending a historically black school for four years. He said he could relate to being followed. He told the audience to look at race as one of the issues under the surface of the Martin case.
Scott also said people find identity in race, religion and pride. “We have things that celebrate differences, but on the other hand, we want to treat people the same,” he said.
Dr. Mark Skorick, government professor, posed a philosophically fundamental question: “If you believe society is unjust, can there ever be justice?”
Skorick said he believes firmly that political science is based on growth and civil rights and that the Martin case brings interesting social and academic questions.
Hazel Carlos, English professor, agreed there is no easy solution to racism as she shared her memory of seeing the face of a 14-year-old boy in a photograph. The boy was tied to a cotton gin and drowned for whistling at a white woman after a childish dare.
“A black man’s life is fragile, regardless of how much effort you have put into raising him,” she said.
Carlos, referencing Ralph Ellison’s novel “Invisible Man,” said Martin was invisible. “Often our children’s existence is at the mercy of another’s imagination,” she said.
Students leaned forward and scribbled notes as student Obed Manuel discussed his experience with discrimination. Manuel, who grew up in Oak Cliff, said the Martin case resonates with him because he knows what it is like to be looked at when he visits more affluent areas of the city.
“This touches on the aspect of being poor in America,” Manuel said. “You are not going to be treated the same [if you look out of place].”
Captain John Klingensmith, head of the Brookhaven Police Department, asked everyone in the lecture room to take a moment of silence for Martin and his family. After the silence, he asked the audience to raise their hand if they had been stopped by a policeman. Nearly every hand in the room went up and he joked, “Good, the police are doing their job.”
Klingensmith outlined the importance of a neighborhood watch.
“If you see a suspicious person, you don’t confront and you don’t follow,” Klingensmith said.
He said neighborhood watch members should call the police instead of taking any action on their own, and he said Zimmerman’s neighborhood watch should have been better trained.
Hayaud-Din invited students to line up for a brief Q-and-A session. Ten students asked questions about the media’s involvement, cultural differences and more.
Student Omar Roa asked the last question: “How can we look beyond the issue of race?”
Carlos answered the question and received applause for her response. “As a scholar, you have to decide if you want all the information and story,” she said. “The most dangerous individual is the one who knows the whole story.”