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Local march puts focus on keeping youth safe
In the aftermath of Trayvon Martin slaying verdict
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Marchers walked along Fayette Street to the former Henry County courthouse Saturday as part of a rally in light of the not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case.
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Sunday, July 21, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A Florida teenager’s fatal shooting should inspire the local black community to teach youth — especially black males — how to be responsible citizens so they can be safe and lead positive lives, according to speakers at a rally and march on Saturday.

Trayvon Martin’s death has made black people “reinspired to look after our sons,” said the Rev. Tyler Millner, who led the rally on the grounds of the old courthouse in uptown Martinsville. About 100 people attended.

“If we have good sons, we will have good fathers,” said Millner, pastor of Morning Star Holy Church in Axton. “If we have good fathers, we will have good families.”

A jury on July 13 found George Zimmerman, 29, of Sanford, Fla., not guilty of second-degree murder in the February 2012 shooting of Martin, who was 17.

Martin was shot as he walked through a gated townhouse community where he was staying and where Zimmerman — who was the community’s Neighborhood Watch coordinator — lived, according to national media reports.

Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, claimed the shooting was in self-defense, and Martin, who was black, was unarmed, The Associated Press has reported.

Since the verdict, there have been numerous protests nationwide by people concerned about racial profiling and injustice toward minorities.

The verdict was “not fair,” Millner said. “Trayvon was not treated right.”

Others at the rally echoed that sentiment.

Florida is one of 24 states with so-called “stand your ground” laws enabling people to defend themselves without having to retreat from danger.

Martinsville-Henry County NAACP President Naomi Hodge-Muse indicated she thinks such laws basically let people kill someone without fear of prosecution if they feel threatened or intimidated by that person.

Virginia does not have such a law, and some of those attending the rally carried a banner indicating they hope that does not change.

As part of the rally, Millner said, “we want to appeal to our community, our ministers, our parents ... to have a conversation with your sons” about racial and societal issues “so we might save our sons (from harm) but also prepare them” for situations they might encounter in life.

Impromptu speakers at the event offered advice to young people.

For example, area resident Al Martin said they should show respect for all people with whom they come into contact.

Mary E. Farris of Martinsville said that if they are confronted by police, they should calmly talk to the officers, not argue with them.

Millner said people confronted by police should not reach into their pockets or make any sudden moves that officers might deem threatening.

He added that people should “stand up for justice ... but at the same time we cannot do foolish things or we’ll be dead.”

Darlene Smallwood of Axton said older people need to set an example for younger ones. Area resident Kathleen Dillard suggested that a program to teaching young people how to live positive lives be started locally.

Many of those at the rally gathered near the corner of Fayette and Market streets and marched up Fayette to the old courthouse. Some held signs with messages such as “No Justice, No Peace Zimmerman” and “R.I.P. Trayvon.”

Some chanted “No Justice, No Peace” as they marched. Others were silent.

“You can be a quiet spirit working for the cause” of racial and social justice, Millner said.

Following the rally, the crowd marched to the Martinsville Municipal Building on West Church Street to show their intent to participate in local affairs, such as by attending city council and school board meetings. They gathered on the building’s front steps for a group photo before disbanding.


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