A call for justice

Chris Turner spoke at a rally for education and awareness surrounding the Trayvon Martin case on Wednesday, March 29, 2012 at Tarrant County Community College Southeast Campus. 

Organized by TCC students, LaTarsha and Marqus Smith, the rally featured several speakers including student Florisa Esquivel, student Dennis Swanson, Pastor Dwight McKissic, Professor Eric Salas, Professor Bradley Borougerdi, NAACP Arlington Chapter President Silk Littlejoin-Gamble, and community activist Bridgette Davis.

Turner’s remarks, as prepared, are below:

“Good afternoon.  In 1963, while he was sitting in a jail in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  And that is why we are here today – our sense of right and wrong tells us that a great injustice has been committed, one for which we want justice done.  But it is also an injustice that demands a close examination of how we got here, and where we will go from here.

Like you, I am outraged at what happened in Sanford, Florida last month.  I’m angry that a young man, holding nothing but a bag of Skittles and a can of tea, would be gunned down on a city street in the United States of America.  I’m angry that a self-styled vigilante would ignore the authorities and pursue Trayvon Martin – a pursuit that ended with the death of that 17-year old boy.

Now, in large part due to rallies like this one all across the country, and the outrage we have seen about this case in the media, we see local, state and federal authorities investigating this case, as they should.  And we all hope that there is some measure of justice that will be realized when that process is complete.

Last week, President Obama said that the Trayvon Martin case is cause for our country -to do some soul-searching.  The president is right.

And I think we have to soul-search not just how this could have happened and how we keep it from happening again, but we need to look inward at ourselves as a nation and examine how we are reacting to this tragedy.

It is my hope that as America has a frank discussion about this tragedy and its aftermath, we use it as an opportunity to come closer together, not an excuse to be further divided.  And when I hear rhetoric from some in this country – talking about what Trayvon Martin’s school attendance record was, as if that somehow justifies or explains away what happened to him, I am saddened that, despite all our progress on the issue of race in America, we still have so much further to go.

When I was about your age and a student at the University of Texas, I had the opportunity to hear then-President Bill Clinton speak on our campus.  It wasn’t just any speech either, it was a major address on the state of race relations in our country.  That speech, in October of 1995, came just weeks after the verdict in the OJ Simpson case and in a similar time tinged with racial tension.

The president said, “Today we face a choice — one way leads to further separation and bitterness and more lost futures. The other way, the path of courage and wisdom, leads to unity, to reconciliation, to a rich opportunity for all Americans to make the most of the lives God gave them. This moment in which the racial divide is so clearly out in the open need not be a setback for us. It presents us with a great opportunity, and we dare not let it pass us by.”

I think today we are presented with another great opportunity.  We are all Americans, and there is so much more that unites us than divides us.  And our diversity is a great strength – a diversity we understand and experience more than most living here in Texas, here in Southeast Tarrant County and right here on this campus.  We have so much to learn from one another – understanding one another’s different backgrounds, life experiences, and culture helps us all become better people.  We can respect, appreciate and celebrate our differences – but we don’t have to fixate on them.

We don’t have to fear them.

And we don’t have to let them divide us.

But where we see the differences between us that we know are not right, we all have an obligation to make changes.  I’m talking about the injustices that we have all lived with for far too long, the injustices that don’t dominate the cable news shows or show up in our Facebook news feeds.

I’m talking about the injustice of income disparity – where we see African Americans and Hispanics earn less than white Americans.

I’m talking about the injustice of poverty, where here in Texas, 66 percent of Latino children and 59 percent of black children live in low-income families.

I am talking about the injustice of our educational system, especially in Texas, where underfunded public schools see the minority drop-out rate soar, closing the door of opportunity to thousands of young Texans.

And I am talking about the injustice that comes with the inaccessibility of health care – where 59% of the uninsured in our state are Hispanic.

So my hope is that as we remember Trayvon Martin and demand justice in his tragic case, let us not stop there.  Let us all join together to advocate for justice in all aspects of our society.  Long after the Trayvon Martin case has faded from the headlines, let us have the strength, the courage and the fortitude to continue our individual battles for justice and the end to inequality.  And until that day comes, it is my hope that we will not rest.

225 years after our founding fathers gathered to create our nation’s constitution, we are still working to “form a more perfect union.” Our Founders recognized that this democracy would never be perfect because, we the people who form it are not perfect.  But at the heart of the American ideal is the promise that we can always be better.  And as we honor the memory of Trayvon Martin and we pray for his family, let us all commit ourselves to the betterment of this country and all who live in it.”

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