Peter Dreier E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, Occidental College
A year ago and a half ago, I wrote an article for The Huffington Post that I called “Will the Killing of Trayvon Martin Catalyze a Movement Like Emmett Till Did?” I pointed out that Rosa Parks was thinking about Emmett Till — a 14-year-old African-American who was brutally murdered by two white thugs in Mississippi in August 1955 — when she refused to move to the back of the bus in December of that year and sparked the Montgomery bus boycott which, in turn, triggered the civil rights movement.
At the time, I hoped the answer to my question would be yes, but I wasn’t sure. I wondered whether the protests over the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the acquittal of his killer George Zimmerman, would coalesce into a sustained movement.
Now we can see that, indeed, a movement for social and racial justice has emerged from the Trayvon Martin murder and more recent events — among them, the tragic killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in NYC, and the outrageous failings of our criminal justice system to indict their killers, and the murders of 19-year-old Kendrec McDade in Pasadena and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.
Protests around the country have escalated over the past two years. Activists have transformed the outrage into local community organizing projects, voter registration drives and mass protest campaigns like the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina. They’ve focused on the epidemic of murders, opposition to Stand Your Ground (“shoot first”) laws in many states, the persistence of racial profiling and stop-and-frisk tactics by police, sentencing reform and the overlapping issue of voter suppression and ex-felon disenfranchisement.
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