There were many different kinds of speakers at Wednesday evening’s rally at the steps of the county courthouse: black, white, male, female, young, middle-aged, older. What tied them together, and what was behind the gathering in the first place, was their anger at the acquittal of George Zimmerman for any form of guilt in the killing of Trayvon Martin, and their hope that if anything good comes of the Florida teen’s death, it would be in the form of a wakeup call for white Americans on the pervasiveness and the insidiousness of racism.
About 100 assembled at the courthouse in Uptown Kingston to hear nearly a dozen speakers talk, some with obvious emotion, about what they thought the killing and the verdict indicated about the culture and the state of racial relations in America today.
One of the speakers was 20-year-old Amanda Mosher of Kingston, who told the crowd she had met Martin while she lived in Florida. “He was the greatest kid,” she said, adding that she witnessed a lot of racism while there. “Race is the biggest thing down there,” she said. “When I lived there, every day I heard the n-word, and I was mortified. … We’re all humans, so why are we racist to anybody?”
The Rev. Modele Clarke of Kingston’s New Progressive Baptist Church said he wanted to lend his voice to the millions “who are saddened and disgruntled and outraged by the not-guilty verdict.” Clarke, who compared Martin’s killing to the shooting death of Newburgh’s Michael Lembhard by that city’s police last year and said as a black man he has to be “hyper-vigilant and hyper-careful” when he gets pulled over by the police, asked “is public frustration alone enough to end the slaughter of young people of color?” He also noted “reactionaries protest reality, but revolutionaries change reality.”
Ashley Dittus, president of the Ulster County Young Democrats, said the case underscores the need to “take a serious look in this country at gun laws.” She also noted of the rally, “This is a great groundswell, but it has to keep growing.”
Kat Fisher, Hudson Valley political organizer with Citizen Action of New York, helped put together the gathering, along with Nina Dawson, who was the rally’s emcee. Fisher spoke bluntly about the need for her fellow white people to confront and recognize “white privilege” and battle against it in their own communities. “The white part of this community has to take responsibility for your friends and neighbors” who say they’re not racist, yet hold prejudiced attitudes, Fisher said. “We really have to make the time to talk about race,” she said. She also urged attendees to sign an NAACP petition calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to bring civil rights charges against Zimmerman and for Florida and other states to take another look at the “stand your ground” laws.
“We always talk about law, but there’s someone who gave the law, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’” thundered Pastor Donald Mapes Jr. of the King’s Fire Church in Lake Katrine. “America needs to heal, but America needs to repent! There is a greater judge and when the wrath of God hits, there ain’t enough armies, there ain’t enough Star Wars, there ain’t enough nothin’ that will stop it!”
Imogene Simmons-Kelly of West Hurley said she was both a police officer and an inmate in Florida, so she’s seen the issue from more than one side, and said profiling of any kind is invalid. “I’m up here, I’m black, I’m blacker than black, I have glasses, I’m limping — can you tell anything about me? That’s crazy!”
She also urged young people to educate themselves as a path to freedom. “Don’t act out the scripts that others write for you.”
Jamie Levato of Esopus summed up the mood of the speakers: “What we need is a mass movement against racism.”
One of the people at the rally was Shalawn Brown of Kingston, who has a 16-year-old son and a 10-year-old son, both of whom are black and both of whom wear hoodies. “I feel Trayvon Martin was my son because he was my son.”