Justice For Trayvon Martin Rally in front of US District Court, Washington DC on Saturday afternoon, 20 July 2013. (Courtesy of FLickr user Elvert Barnes)
There’s “hot”. There’s “summer in DC hot”. And then there’s “summer in downtown DC hot”. For the uninitiated, our humid nation’s capital, built appropriately on a swamp, is particularly sweltering amidst the federal buildings where concrete is king and trees are in scarce supply. This was the setting for Saturday’s vigil for Trayvon Martin, called by the National Action Network and held at the DC Federal Courthouse.
There must have been 1,000 people out on the scorching sidewalk, the overwhelming majority African-American families. [Given the widely publicized nature of the event, it was deeply disappointing that more white members of the DC left—people who organized around Occupy DC or march without fail around other issues—did not attend.]
Most of the signs were home-made; some so touching you’d feel a tear mix with the sweat on your cheeks. The one that grabbed me was a woman who wrote down the entirety of her version of “the talk” she was going to have with her 6-year-old son, who was holding her hand. For those who don’t know, “the talk” is what African-American families tell their sons to avoid racial violence. Normally, it centers on speaking softly and not making sudden movements. But as she said to me, “This is a different kind of ‘talk’ ”. It read:
I will teach my son strength. I will teach my son to question authority. I will teach my son to fight injustice. I will not teach my son to fear. I will not emasculate my son because of uncivilized animals pretending to be human. You teach your son to let my son be, to not hate him because of his skin color because I am teaching my son to die fighting.
The speakers ranged from the National Action Network and the NAACP to local icons like Joe Madison and Dick Gregory. Joe Madison provided a high point when he said, “We still have a Jim Crow legal system. But now it’s a legal system that’s decided the George Zimmermans of the world can be judge, jury and executioner. He then is backed not by Jim Crow. But by James Crow, Esquire.” Dick Gregory provided a low point by starting his speech with a homophobic “joke,” saying it was easy to get gay marriage because of who founded the country. “Just look at George Washington in those tight pants, boots and powdered wig,” he said, waiting for a laugh. The crowd, however, which was energized and clapping at every line from every speaker, was tepid* in response. Homophobia did not sell.