Youth from all over the city gathered this week to protest what they said was an unjustifiable killing in Florida after a 17 year-old black male was shot allegedly because he wore a hoodie and gym shoes.
The popular combination of clothes wore by so many youth today often makes them ‘suspects’ in the eyes of law enforcement and adults, said Chandler Green, 15.
“Just because I wear a hoodie and I have my head covered up, and my jeans sag and I have on gym shoes, do not mean I am a thug, gang banger or drug dealer,” he said. “It might mean I am a young man trying to find my way. No different than any other adult when they were my age.”
Green was among a crowd of 800 people, mostly youth, who gathered March 28 at Sweet Holy Spirit Church on the South Side to protest the Feb. 26 shooting death of Treyvon Martin.
George Zimmerman, a volunteer community watchman, admitted shooting Martin but said he did so in self-defense after Martin attacked him. Police in Sanford, Fla. where the killing occurred said when they interviewed Zimmerman the night of the killing he was bleeding from the nose and the back of his head. He was not charged though and blacks from across the country are outraged.
That frustration was heard loud and clear this week at Sweet Holy Spirit where parents and teens wore hoodies and gym shoes to symbolize the attire many youth often have on when they are slained. And more than 500 pair of gym shoes were left at the church’s alter where they will stay until Easter Sunday service on April 8, said Bishop Larry Trotter, pastor of Sweet Holy Spirit Church.
“We need to send a message to the world that we are not going to let our youth be killed by society one by one,” said Trotter, a longtime community activist. “As a community that cares we need to stand up for our youth at all times and not wait for something bad to happen to them before we respond. We need to be more proactive and less reactive.”
At the rally Trotter read the names of 41 youth between the ages six and 20 who were killed so far this year.
Michael Brass, 17, said his friend was one of those youth.
“He was killed March 1. He went to the corner store for his mom to get some sugar and when as he left out gangs started shooting at each other and he was hit,” Brass emotionally recalled as he fought back tears and choked up. “He was my dog from grammar school. We did everything together except die. I miss my dog.”
Trotter explained that the reason why he held the community event was to bring awareness to a growing problem in America among youth and that’s the misconception that based on how youth are dressed they are danger to society.
“A lot of people were not able to go to the rallies in Florida for Treyvon Martin so I decided to have one here. But this is bigger than one person. The Martin killing is a starting point for us to bring awareness to the extinction of black youth,” asserted Trotter. “I do not want to keep turning on the TV news and hearing about another youth being shot dead on the South Side or West Side because of what they were wearing. I do not want to see drive pass and see another youth arrested and questioned on the street by police because of what they are wearing.”
More safe havens are needed for youth, said Tracy Sanders, 53, whose 18 year-old son was shot dead a month before his high school graduation in 2009.
“He almost made it. He was going to college out of state. That was what we decided would be best for him. Away from all the bad elements in our neighborhood,” said the Englewood resident. “There use to be a time when churches and schools were used as community centers and sponsored free, after school programs seven days a week. That option is gone for our youth along with job prospects.”
And it is because so many senseless killings taking place in Chicago especially now that summer is upon us, that Corey Brooks Sr., pastor of New Beginnings Church on the South Side, is trying to build a $15 million community center at 6625 S. King Drive in the Woodlawn community.
“The Woodlawn community needs jobs, after school programs for youth and economic development,” said Brooks. “I want our children to have a safe place besides home to go to after school.”
In the end though, Heaven Smith, 15, said America has lost far too many youth who could have turned out to be the next Barack Obama.
“President Obama is from Chicago and while he is not from the hood, he is a black man who grew up struggling to make something of himself. He encountered racism, was pick on by society and did not have a father around to protect him, and yet he still went on to become President of the United States,” Smith proudly said. “That represents hope. That represents accomplishment and that is all we (as youth) want from the world. A chance to dream and make something positive out of our lives.”