Queens leaders are demanding justice for the family and the memory of Trayvon Martin, unarmed 17-year-old black Florida high school student who was shot to death last month by a volunteer community watchman while walking through a suburb at night.
The gunman, George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old who is half latino, has since gone into hiding and has not been charged.
The shock of this racially toned incident has also had an impact in Queens.
The president of the NAACP’s Jamaica branch, Leroy Gadsden, is in disbelief that Zimmerman has yet to be arrested.
“Justice needs to be taken swiftly,” Gadsden said. “That DA in Florida needs to resign because they have not even come close to upholding the law. This act was intentional.”
Gadsden said he believes people across America need to take a personal inventory on their perspectives towards other races.
“We’re just not as free as we think we are because racial attitudes hold us back,” he said.
The Rev. Charles Norris of the Jamaica Baptist Church believes that the Martin family are the ones who need to be honored now.
“They have not arrested the man who admitted to killing that boy,” Norris said. “The media is focusing on trying to degrade this young man’s character. They’re saying he had marijuana in his backpack at the time; what does that have to do with him being dead?”
Norris said he thinks something like this could easily happen in Queens.
“Our problem here is that the DA says the state can’t find money for a gun buy-back program. We need to combat black-on-black crime and this is one way,” he added.
A gun buy-back program like one in Brooklyn allows citizens to turn in illegal guns with no questions asked for a cash reward. Since 2008, more than 7,600 guns have been taken off the streets through this program, according to nysenate.gov.
“An organization like this in Florida could’ve saved that boy’s life,” Norris said.
Ken Cohen, president of the Northeast Queens chapter of the NAACP, said the public needs more racial education for its citizens and police.
“There’s this mystique of fear of the African American,” Cohen said. “For example, the NAACP has youth programs about what to do when you’re walking home alone and what to do when you’re approached by a cop.”
He said that it’s a shame that these issues even need to be thought about, but they do have to advise young people to not ask for a badge number when approached by an officer because it only escalates the tension of the situation. They also advise them to not make any sudden movements or carry certain things.
Cohen said he knows a young gentleman who was aggressively approached by a patrolling cop because he looked like he was “holding.”
What he was holding was a Three Musketeers bar.
Cohen does recommend if someone is approached, that he or she tries to remember every physical detail of the officer that they can, and to remain calm and respectful.
“I have lived here for 60 years,” Cohen said. “I know that every child isn’t out there doing wrong. It shouldn’t be a gut reaction to attack.”
Ray Normandeau, a citizen journalist who dubs himself, “the Queens Michael Moore,” said that similiar to Trayvon Martin’s case, if he were approached by a stranger in the middle of the night, he would react defensively, too.
“Think about it,” Normandeau said. “Zimmerman had no uniform, no badge, no radio. If someone aggressively approached you after stalking you in the night, would you not hit them back?”
Normandeau’s wife, Rita Frazier, has volunteered for years with the Civilian Operation Control neighborhood watch that is affiliated with the 114th Precinct in Western Queens.
“You’re only supposed to watch as a community patroller. Only the police are supposed to take care of the matter,” Frazier said. “Zimmerman was on the phone with a dispatcher who told him to not get out of his car when he was following Trayvon. He should’ve called the police.”
She is convinced that Zimmerman was trigger happy and targeting black citizens.
“For neighborhood watch patrollers in Queens, just keep doing what you’re doing,” Frazier said. “We’re just fine.”
Frank Cotnik Jr., president of the Glendale Civilian Observation Patrol group, is outraged by the snap judgments that people are making about the case.
“We are a nation of laws. They’re good people out there and there are bad people out there,” Cotnik said. “The truth is that the only people who know the facts are Zimmerman and the eyewitnesses. Unfortunately, we have a young man dead, but some people aren’t going to be happy no matter what the result of this is.”
Cotnik added that neighborhood watch programs in the five boroughs are guided by restrictions from the NYPD which state that volunteers are only to advise and report activity. He said he does not know how they are run in Florida where the Martin case occurred.
“If you don’t know the facts, then you shouldn’t comment on it,” he said.
Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) is hosting a march in Southeast Queens Saturday, March 31 at 10 a.m. called the Faith Community Walk for Justice. It begins at Linden and Francis Lewis boulevards and will conclude at St. Albans Park on Sayres Avenue and Merrick Boulevard.
People are encouraged to wear hoods as a symbol of Martin’s tragic demise following the “Occupy the Hood” march that took place with the Occupy Wall Street protesters last week.
“It makes me want to cry thinking about how beautiful life was when I was 17,” Gadsden said. “I loved life. I will try to be at the march Saturday morning with all the other people from different walks of life to honor Trayvon.”
For further information and to participate in the march call Vivian McMillian, president of the 113th Precinct Community Council, at (917) 620-8500.