The parents of murdered American teenager Trayvon Martin have called on British people to stop racially profiling each other during an emotionally charged visit to London in which they met with Stephen Lawrence’s mother Doreen.
The remarkable meeting brought together two families on different sides of the Atlantic who both suffered the tragedy of having a loved one murdered, only to have that pain compounded by racism and indifference from the police.
Trayvon was shot in the chest by armed neighbourhood volunteer George Zimmerman as he walked through a leafy gated community in Stanford, Florida, because his killer assumed he was “up to no good”. He was unarmed, wearing a hooded top and was visiting his father’s girlfriend at the time of his death.
His killing generated international headlines and caused a searing national discussion in America about racial profiling and the seeming indifference of local police who initially refused to arrest Zimmerman.
But it has also led to the emergence of a new alliance between civil activists in Britain and the States who want to create an international campaign against the tendency of both police and the pubic in general to make assumptions about people purely because of their outward appearance or race.
At a meeting this afternoon in central London Trayvon’s parents Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin spoke out against profiling – both by police and the wider public.
“It’s an issue in the US and also here in London,” said Miss Fulton. “We recognise that. We are communicating with different groups right now so that we can try and raise the issue of profiling. I should not be looked at differently because of the colour of my skin. You also have to look at my character and my education as well. This is something we must try to get resolved.”
In American cities thousands have rallied in recent months under the banner of the “Million Hoodies Movement for Justice” to protest against the prejudices of people who judge others because of their appearance. Backed by the Occupy movement, there are plans to initiate similar protests in Britain.
Tracy Martin, a soft spoken truck driver who, like Trayvon’s mother, has been has been thrust into the international spotlight following the murder of their son, said young black men shouldn’t have to be worried about how people viewed them.
“You can’t be afraid to leave your home,” he said. “You can’t be afraid to walk down the street.“
Daryl Parks, one the family’s solicitors, said he had held meetings with the Society of Black Lawyers on how profiling affected people in the UK.
“This issue of profiling is one that has affected our country in so many ways,” he said. “It’s been very insightful to be able to talk to Great Britain and have an opportunity to have a dialogue with people here – all in the name of justice. The issue is profiling. Profiling of any type of person is wrong, wrong, wrong.”
The timing of the alliance is prescient. Last summer the shooting to death of 29-year-old black man Mark Duggan in Tottenham by armed police lit the spark for some of the worst rioting seen in Britain for two decades. Stop and search policies – in which black men are significantly more likely to be stopped by police – has also caused growing resentment.
The Martin family travelled to Britain at the behest of Doreen Lawrence whose son Stephen was murdered by a racist gang in South London 19 years ago. Two of his killers were finally imprisoned earlier this year and police are still hoping to prosecute between three and four others thought to have been involved in his murder.
“As soon as I heard about Trayvon’s death I wanted to stretch a hand out over the water,” she said today. “I understood what they were going through. One minute your son is communicating, the net he is dead. Someone is responsible for that.”
Both families held a silent vigil outside Downing Street today to highlight “victims of senseless crimes of prejudice.” The Martin’s also toured the centre set up in Stephen Lawrence’s name which helps fund courses in architecture.
Trayvon’s father said meeting Doreen Lawrence was helping them come to terms with what had happened to his own family.
“She’s been very inspirational,” he said. “She’s helped show us that some good can come out of such an awful tragedy.”
Miss Fulton added that although they had received support from all around the world, few people understood their pain quite the way Mrs Lawrence did.
“A lot of people have said to us they know how we feel and they sympathise with us. But until you have lost a child it is very difficult to understand how we feel – the hurt and the pain we have,” she said. “I have a brother right now in a wheelchair and I tell him all the time I understand how he feels. But I really don’t because I’m not in a wheelchair. I can sympathise with him, but I don’t know the pain he goes through. I don’t know the hurt he goes through because he can’t walk.”
Asked what message she wanted to give to people in Britain she replied: “Stand up and be heard. Don’t let this happen to another one of your children. I say it so often that Trayvon wasn’t just my son, he’s your son too.”