Burning candles shed light on hate

Photo by Anibal Ortiz

A group of about 30 students held a candlelight vigil for Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi at Cal State Fullerton. Students withstood chilly and windy weather to engage in honest discussions about race and prejudice in the United States.

April 11 was designated by activists as the national day of action for justice for Trayvon Martin. The timing was impeccable as George Zimmerman was arrested on second-degree murder charges by a Florida special prosecutor the same day. The self-appointed neighborhood watch captain had admitted to shooting 17-year-old Martin, but had not been arrested. Although Martin was unarmed, Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law was the reasoning behind releasing Zimmerman after questioning.

Shaima Alawadi was beat to death with a tire iron in her home in El Cajon, Calif. For weeks, it was regarded as a possible hate crime because of a note found near her body by authorities that said “Go back to your own country. You’re a terrorist.” New evidence has shown it may not have been a hate crime; there may have been a family conflict that led to her death.

Zeena Aljawad, a psychology major, said although new evidence has come out that the killing of Alawadi may not be a hate crime, there still needs to be justice for her death.

“Cases about Middle Eastern women don’t usually get publicized in the media,” she said. “This is very important to our community.”

Participants stood in a circle and shared personal experiences about dealing with hate and bigotry.

Harpreet Bath, a finance studies major, spoke about the perception that America is living in a “post-racial” society. He said as a Sikh follower, he has experienced prejudice after 9/11 because of the turban he wears on his head.

“Is this the identity we want to show the world? An African American male can’t walk through a white neighborhood without fear of being shot? A Muslim woman gets beaten in her own home?” Bath said to the other students. “If we want to spark change, we have to do it here. We have to pledge to be tolerant. Just the fact we came down here tonight and had the initiative, we can rise above, educate ourselves and spark change.”

Other students spoke out about prejudice against the people of color, the LGBT community and women. The discussions ranged from confronting friends and family about racist comments to the role of the military and law enforcement when it comes to institutionalized racism.

Martin’s death has sparked a national debate about race, as well as the interactions between the black community and law enforcement, or in this case, an associate of law enforcement.

Media outlets such as Time and the Globe have featured articles about “The Talk,” which is the advice given to black youth about getting pulled over by police.

Robert Collins, a film studies major, came out to the vigil because it is an issue that is close to home. As a black male, he said he has experienced racial profiling by the police.

“When I get pulled over — and I say ‘when’ because it happens a lot — I was taught to always address a police officer with ‘Sir,’” he said. “… I am not going to give him any reason to have me be the next (person) to be killed because the story is (going to look like) I attacked first.”
“When I reach for my wallet I say to the officer, ‘my wallet’s in my pocket. I’m reaching for it now,’” Collins said.

Lucero Ramos, a sociology major, attended the vigil because of discussions of race and white privilege in one of her classes. She said she is glad an arrest has been made in the case of Martin, but there is still more work to do.

“That’s just one case, though. We’re talking about so many cases and they are not going to have the same justice,” she said. “But if we … talk about the issue and we announce it, maybe for other people, they’re going to have justice. It’s a small step in the big picture.”

Originally featured in The Daily Titan

Amber Stephens