We are a community that stands up against racism and we won't stop until justice is served. —Aren Hansen, of the Industrial Workers of the World
SALT LAKE CITY — The shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin sparked talk of hate crimes and racial profiling all over the country, including the Lower home in Salt Lake City.
Paul and Danielle Lower adopted their 11-year-old son Eli from Haiti five years ago.
"No mother should have to talk to any child about the fact that they can be in danger just because of the color of their skin," Danielle Lower said.
Lower said her neighborhood shields her family from racial prejudice, but now she gets emotional as she ponders the difficult task of explaining racism to her young son as they prepare him for the future.
"Eventually he might leave our home and might venture outside of Utah," she said. "We have to prepare him for that, and I think this case made that even more crucial and more urgent."
Lower doesn't know if the Trayvon Martin case involves racial profiling, but as a mother she's more sensitive to it. "I think we all think we know what it feels like, but until one of your children is treated like that, it tears you apart," she said.
Irene Ota, a professor at the University of Utah's School of Social Work, said Utahns should be talking about the case. "It's the not knowing that's dangerous and damaging," she said.
On Thursday, social justice activists held the first of several scheduled public demonstrations to raise some of those issues.
Activists representing black, Muslim and Asian student unions; Occupy Salt Lake City; United for Social Justice and others held a news conference on the Park Building steps. They intend to organize a "hoodie" march Saturday from the Gallivan Center to the Salt Lake Main Library. A "political and public policy training" session is planned for Sunday as part of the weekly Liberty Park drum circle.
"Unfortunately, it takes something like this to get people's attention," said Ozwald Balfour, an international business consultant who co-founded the Utah Republican Black Assembly in 2003. "Most of us know being different makes us a target every day."
Martin, 17, was shot and killed Feb. 26 during a confrontation with George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community of townhomes in Sanford, Fla.
Zimmerman was patrolling the neighborhood when he spotted Martin, who was unarmed and walking to the home of his father's fiancée. It was raining, and Martin was walking with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head.
"We're here to offer our support to his family and to show our indignation at this horrendous act," said Aren Hansen, of the Industrial Workers of the World. "We are a community that stands up against racism and we won't stop until justice is served."
The shooting touched off heated national dialog on racial issues.
"Some say it was the hoodie that he wore," Balfour said, pulling the hood of his jacket over his head. "I don't know. But what I do know is that in this country it's about time we got to realize that our strengths are in the different fabrics that make us a country."
Balfour said the "deafening silence" in Utah on the Martin case prompted him to speak out. But doing so raises credibility issues given his past.
The 57-year-old South Jordan resident spent 90 days in jail in after pleading no contest to three counts of misdemeanor sexual battery in 2010. He currently is charged with first-degree felony forcible sodomy. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for May.
Balfour contends he was wronged, and said his criminal history gives him greater credibility. "I have firsthand experience with the injustice of the system," he said.
"No one is going to deny me of my free speech rights," said Balfour, who was elected a Salt Lake County Republican delegate two weeks ago. "They can charge me all they want."
Balfour criticized neighborhood watch programs, calling them "militias." He cited the 2009 confrontation in Bluffdale that left David Serbeck paralyzed after Reginald Campos shot him. Somebody needs to watch the watchers, he said.
He also called for federal courts to examine "stand your ground" laws, which allows citizens to use deadly force if they "reasonably believe" their safety is threatened in public settings. Authorities have declined to prosecute Zimmerman under that law in Florida.
Utah has had such a law since 1994. It says a person does not have a duty to retreat from force or threatened force that a person reasonably believes may cause death or serious injury.
Contributing: Nkoyo Iyamba