"In order to not charge George Zimmerman they had to criminalize Trayvon Martin!"
"They must deal with us as human beings not as animals!"
"We women don't stand up for our pickney, who will?!"
"No justice! No Peace!"
Passionate words of protest reverberate outside of the American Embassy on Tuesday afternoon in London, UK. Protesters with raised fists and banners chant in unison, horns blare and drums beat to the tempo of frustrated heartbeats.
After the verdict of acquittal was announced in the Trayvon Martin case, a wave of upset resounded across the Atlantic. As an American student studying abroad, myself and other students from our program felt a rush of shock, anger and restlessness. A few wanted to go back home to vocalize their frustrations. We soon learned, however that we were not alone.
The Justice for Trayvon Martin rally organized by the National African Caribbean Forum (UK) rallied together like individuals to form a 7-hour protest. There was poetry, public speakers and an open forum.
We came to support but found ourselves immediately absorbed into introspective discussions and comparative debates about the racial climate in the States and in the UK. We learned to our disappointment that London had their share of Trayvon Martins.
"They've become more sophisticated with the way they dish it out," says Marcia Rigg, 49 about racism in the UK. "What's more traumatic is what they're doing to our children."
Rigg's brother, Sean Rigg who suffered from mental illness died after unnecessary force was used in his restraint and he was crammed in the back of a cop car, causing asphyxia on August 21, 2008. Reasons given for Rigg's arrest by Brixton police was theft of his own passport and disorderly conduct. However, officers also neglected to follow proper protocol and conduct a mental health act assessment.
"I think it's outright racism," says Stephanie O'Connor. "What law protects a murderer? The law is made for whom? To protect the whites?"
O'Connor's son, Jason O'Connor has been jailed for obstructing police. Jason who is in his early thirties was occupying a telephone booth when police asked to search him. When O'Connor refused to be searched without valid reasoning they beat him.
"The lawmakers can break the law because it's an African their dealing with," she says. "The whole system needs changing it's not working for half the citizens."
The citizens of London were represented remarkably at the protest, around 100 protesters united for an issue that bridges demographics.
"The similarity we all face is racism," says Rigg. "We are treated like criminals instead of human beings just like Stephen Lawrence."
At the mention of Stephen Lawrence there is an air of reverence proceeded by solemn head nods. Lawrence was an aspiring architect waiting for a bus when he was attacked and stabbed by five white individuals who hurled racial slurs his way. He suffered deep stab wounds and collapsed after running 130 yards. He died on site at age 18, April 22 1993. This sparked public outcry for justice, but it wasn't until January 3rd 2012 that two of the five suspects were found guilty of Lawrence's murder.
Twenty years later, Lawrence's mother was just informed that the police have been spying on the Lawrence family and attempting to weaken her case. Undercover officer Peter Francis infiltrated protest organizations in order to find any incriminating information on the Lawrence family with the hopes to halt protests. Lawrence's case was and still is high profile in the UK and the case of Trayvon Martin has thrown salt in an unhealed wound.
The day before the protest we had a sit-in in front of the American Embassy, the guards with their guns eyed us from afar as a discussion took place. A discussion where a diverse group of individuals our age and older talked about race in their country. We were completely and totally vulnerable sharing stories in which we've been victims of blatant prejudice. We discussed courses of action and means of resolution. Many wondered how we dealt with this on such a larger scale, seeing black men/women being victims of hate crimes almost on the daily. We became the representatives of Black America in that microcosm of the world and people offered us their condolences and words of support.
I have a friend that always says, "I just want to go somewhere where it's okay to be black." I never necessarily thought that was London, but I always felt it had a more integrated cultural zeitgeist than the States. It had no choice, so many different cultures and ethnicities shared one city. However, they have their own history of massive race riots and profiling.
In this "post-race" society, it's almost as if we have mythologized racism to the point where it is impossible to talk about it. Yet, racism, prejudice and discriminatory practices are alive and pulsating through our streets, our justice systems and us.
If there is anything I've learned from the lives of Amadou Diallo, Emmet Till, Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin, Stephen Lawrence, Sean Rigg, and Troy Davis it is that history will always repeat itself if we allow it.