Howard University Students at Forefront of Trayvon Martin Case

“…We have to continue to advocate justice for all people. Of course the justice system is imperfect because it suffers from the downfall of being governed by human beings,” he said. “Sometimes, people in positions of power make irrational decisions and that go all the way back to the inception of this Country. In a perfect world, this would never happen again. But in this world, unfortunately, there’s probably another situation such as this one right around the corner…”
– Nicholas Matthews, Howard University School of Law J.D. Candidate ’14

Dream Defenders

Many people around the world have mobilized in an effort to seek justice for Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African-American male who was shot and killed as he walked to his father’s fiancé’s home from a store after picking up snacks. Particularly, college students have been the most vocal in calling on the judicial system to bring charges against George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watchman who has admitted to shooting and killing Martin in self-defense.

A group calling themselves “The Dream Defenders” marched to Sanford, FL to protest Sanford Police Department’ mishandling of the case. The Dream Defenders, comprised primarily of former student leaders of Florida A&M, Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College, staged a protest by sitting near Sanford PD’s door.

The Dream Defenders may very well be this generation’s version of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee(SNCC), a student-led group that played a pivotal role in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Vibe Magazine interviewed several college students who expressed diverse opinions regarding the case.

Malcolm Clark, a 21-year-old student studying at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, called the American criminal justice system “colorblind.”

“If it takes a social network firestorm to get some justice, then the system and the people inside of the system need to take a long hard look at themselves,” Clark said in an interview with Vibe Magazine.

Howard University Student Protest

In the vast collegiate network, Howard University has arguably been the most active in spreading the word about Trayvon Martin. Kevin Cunningham, Howard University Law alum, started the original Justice for Trayvon Martin petition on March 8 through to raise awareness on this issue.

Dean Bryson, “Am I Suspicious”

A viral video titled “Am I Suspicious” shot by Howard University student John Ledbetter circulated around the net. The video depicts Howard University men standing against racial profiling and the shooting death of Martin.

Howard University student Khyrie Alleyne and several other students filmed a Trayvon Martin reenactment video titled “Trayvon Martin Facts.” The film’s scenes were based on 911 audio released from the incident.

Not only have Howard students been proactive, but also the university’s administration as its Law program lent its support by offering the Martin family legal assistance.

“Trayvon Martin Facts” by Khyrie Alleyne

“We wanted to offer our condolences, first of all, to the family and then our offer of assistance to the lawyers,” Kurt Schmoke, Dean of Howard University, told NBC4. “We can help with not only the investigation, but more importantly, looking at the law.”

Two Howard University students, notably, have been heavily involved in raising awareness on the Trayvon Martin case and the plight of minorities in this country.

Dean Bryson, a 24-year-old-Howard University Graduate Student studying History, and 25-year-old Nicholas Matthews, a Howard Law student, shared their thoughts on the Martin case and the judicial system’s handling of it.

“The Trayvon Martin Case exposes the deeper problems that society has with the acknowledgement of the value of the lives of black men, women and children,” Bryson said. “The simple utterance in the media of Martin’s school suspension for marijuana, his wearing a hoodie and a fake Facebook picture of him holding his middle finger up are all examples of a society so eager to justify the loss of a black person’s life.”

In what many proponents have regarded as a smear campaign against Trayvon Martin, media outlets have gotten hold of Martin’s school record, which indicate Martin was less than perfect.

According to the Miami Herald, Martin was caught in school with a flathead screwdriver and 12 pieces of women’s jewelry. Martin denied the items belonged to him.

Martin has been in trouble for skipping class and tardiness. In February 2012, the youth was suspended after school officials allegedly found a “marijuana pipe” and an empty baggie containing traces of marijuana.

“The focus of the incident should be on Trayvon Martin and that his life was senselessly taken,” Bryson said. “A squeaky clean past and a passive death should not be necessary to deserve justice.”

Bryson said “these questions would have never come up” if Martin were a “white 17-year-old.”

Matthew was “stricken” by the events that occurred “February night” and said his “deepest sorrows go out to the Martin Family.”

Bryson believes Martin is the “victim” in this case and that “any bruises Zimmerman has are only evidence of Trayvon Martin standing his ground.”

Nicholas Matthews, “Am I Suspicious”

Matthews expressed similar sentiment.

“It is very probable that Martin fought back trying to save his life,” he said.

Zimmerman has cited the ‘Stand Your Ground Law’ as his defense. The law states that a person may use force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first.

It is not known what exactly caused the confrontation between Martin and Zimmerman, but 911 audio does reveal Zimmerman pursued the youth. In a 911 call, an emergency dispatcher asked Zimmerman if he was following Martin. Zimmerman replied, “Yes.”

The dispatcher told Zimmerman “we don’t need you to do that.”

As the alleged initiator, Matthews said, we should look at Zimmerman’s background.

“We know that Zimmerman had made 46 911 calls since 2004 for suspicious activity and that he has a violent police record of his own,” he said. “This evidence shows that Zimmerman had a violent character, irrationally found Martin suspicious, pursued and shot him after they were fighting each other.”

George Zimmerman’s background check showed he has a history of violent behavior.

In 2005, Zimmerman allegedly shoved an officer and was charged with “resisting officer with violence” and “battery of law enforcement officer,” both felonies in the third-degree. The charge was reduced to “resisting officer without violence,” but was waived once he entered an alcohol education program.

In 2005, Zimmerman’s ex-fiancée, Veronica Zuazo, filed a civil motion for a restraining order claiming domestic violence. Zimmerman counter-filed for a restraining order against Zuazo. The complaints were eventually resolved with both restraining orders being granted.

In Zimmerman’s most recent charge, he was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Martin and turned himself into authorities on April 11. Nine days later, a judge approved bail for Zimmerman at $150,000 bond. He posted bail and was released on April 23. He remains out on bail.

Citing strong support for the “Stand Your Ground” law, Matthews is unsure of what’s to come in the case.

“From a legal stand point, I think that the prosecutor has indicted Zimmerman on the correct charges for his requisite actions,” he said. “I don’t think the defense will assert the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law from my perspective it’s not really applicable here. For them to succeed on that charge they would have to prove that Zimmerman was not the aggressor and that he reasonable believed that it was necessary to use deadly force to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself.”

Zimmerman’s defense, he said, has the burden of proof, meaning they have to present evidence and facts to lead the jury to believe that Zimmerman was facing death or great bodily harm.

“In this case I don’t think the defense has the evidence to support such a claim,” he said. “Depending on what evidence is admitted I could easily see Zimmerman indicted on the 2nd degree murder charge or mitigated to voluntary manslaughter.”

Matthews calls the “Stand Your Ground” law “selective application.”

The case, he said, shows the justice system is not blind and that race continues to be used to interpret the application of law.

A similar story has made national news.

Marissa Alexander, an African-American Jacksonville native, recently received a 20-year sentence for firing a warning shot in a domestic dispute with her husband Rico Gray. Alexander, who has a history of domestic disputes with her husband, used the “Stand Your Ground” as her defense.

A judge rejected Alexander’s defense saying she could have escaped instead of firing.

Matthews said the media instrumental in raising awareness on issues calling it a “huge opportunity.”

The media, he said, was a major advantage of the Civil Rights Movement because, for the first time, “the nation watched it on TV around the clock.”

“We have got to put our justice system on trial in the court of public opinion,” he said.

The Howard School of Law, he said, does a service in providing the nation with lawyers of color and concern for civil rights

“We need to be in the justice system to fix it,” he said. “We need to have influence in the construction, interpretation and implementation of these laws.”

“…We have to continue to advocate justice for all people. Of course the justice system is imperfect because it suffers from the downfall of being governed by human beings,” he said. “Sometimes, people in positions of power make irrational decisions and that go all the way back to the inception of this Country. In a perfect world, this would never happen again. But in this world, unfortunately, there’s probably another situation such as this one right around the corner and that’s why I decided to attend Howard University School of Law.”

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