A table of smiles and YWCA merchandise greeted you before paying $15 to enjoy a conversation about the Trayvon Martin case and its implications inside the Alaskan legal standard. The Stand Against Racism luncheon, part of a coordinated city-wide effort, crowded 30 persons into Conference Room A, inside the YWCA building on 5th Ave on Friday, May 27, 2012.
In its fifth year, the event sought to create an engaging conversation around race and its social impact in Anchorage. This year, four Anchorage citizens – all with dazzling resumes – presented their thoughts. A Judge. An Activist. A Concerned Citizen. And a Poet.
Now, on paper, this is a very good idea. In living color it can turn out to be a different story. As a veteran of such “let’s all get together and feel alright” Bob Marley-style social events, I have seen many a mighty idea such as this experience an epic fail.
This did not happen last Friday. In an orderly fashion, a planned – yet, very engaging – conversation was had.
It began with food. In true, non-profit style, attendees lunched on a Sub-way variety spread. Nicely arranged, with the structure of various soda cans obligingly placed at the end of the food runway.
Then, Solveig Pedersen, Director of various Social Justice programs operated by the Anchorage YWCA , sat down next to four poised community members.
She thanked ConocoPhillips, Alyeska and and CIRI, then got down to business.
Judge Karen Hunt (retired) outlined the legal parameters of the Trayvon Martin case. A veteran teacher herself, she asked the potent question: Can a Trayvon Martin happen here – meaning in Anchorage, Alaska? The answer, under the right conditions, is “yes.” Hence, she noted, the presence of HB 80 “The Stand Your Ground Law” in the current Legislature.
For the next three minutes she educated those assembled about common law. It appears America adopted the concept of “a duty to retreat” from Mother England. In a dangerous situation, you are obligated, under the law to leave the situation as soon as possible, so long as you can do so safely. And one should use the least amount of force to do so. Otherwise, civility breaks down and you just have everyone killing each other.
This remains true, except when inside homes because of the all powerful Castle Doctrine. Inside of their homes, citizens can use deadly force. To counter-balance this, domestic violence law has expanded over time.
The most interesting twist comes from the True Man Doctrine, from which the Stand Your Ground Law is coming from. It is the concept of “defending honor above sanctity of life.”
She asked us to think about the conditions which would create such law. Where you might “not be engaged in unlawful behavior” and reasonably believe you will be attacked by those wielding deadly force. She asked us to imagine, gang warfare and bar fights.
In 1980 Alaska adopted the Duty to Retreat Law, except when defending a child or family member. HB 80 sought to repeal the 1980 Law.
The good judge concluded that she did not suggest that passage of the law would make anyone feel safer. However, she did predict the resurfacing of this issue within the coming political cycles.
Troy Nkrumah helped make Jena Six a national story. He stated clearly that he had passionate feelings about the Trayvon Martin case simply for being a Black man in America. “I could be Trayvon Martin,” Troy said with a smile to uneasy laughter.
Then he backed his claim up by referencing several incidences from the immediate past decade. A Muslim woman is beaten to death in San Diego. Sean Bell in New York on his wedding day. Oscar Grant on New Years Day in Oakland. He referenced the 20-year-anniversary of Rodney King. “And those are the stories that we hear about. Unless the media picks it up we don’t speak on it,” he said.
During The Jena Six case, as well as the Trayvon Martin, it is alternative or online media generating the national attention.
It is not a matter of “if” a Trayvon Martin can happen in Anchorage. It is happening in Anchorage. Nkrumah told the story of a homeless youth associated with Urban Works. It is the practice of homeless youth to beg for money and then rent a cheap hotel. Ten or so will all enjoy the warmth of the room. A youth who works with him at the print shop owned by Urban Works rented a room and populated it with his friends. The security guard called the cops and the youth was beaten. Almost to non-recognition.
Nkrumah did what he was supposed to do and ran the incident up the flagpole. He has so far received zero results for his efforts.
Why isn’t that story being told? Anchorage needs a website that acts like the media necessary to make stories known.
A self-proclaimed, “concerned citizen”, Neisha Jones echoed a lot of what Nkrumah said. She referenced the story of a police officer and her little brother, aged 12. It involved a gun being pointed at her brother’s face. Her mother won a legal case and still has to pay the State of Alaska $46,000. She stated that this kind of behavior happens so frequently that we are desensitized to it as a society. It still doesn’t matter how many accomplishments an individual may achieve, he or she “of the minorities” faces sublimal barriers.
“I question social justice organizations. Who are they working for?” asked Jones.
Enter the poet, Leo Josey, who made the most controversial statements of the luncheon.
“I think honesty is the best place to start. Right now, we don’t know what happened.”
He stated that the facts of what exactly happened the night Trayvon Martin are still unknown.
Josey thanked Karen Hunt for explaining the law because he didn’t know it went that deep. He thought the concealed weapon law was the same thing.
Born and raised in Anchorage, Josey said his educational experience was always being the only Black person in the classroom. He thinks everyone was a little racist; it’s just what we do with the racism.
For example, he reference Jeremy Lin, the Chinese American basketball player who received a lot of attention earlier in the season – attention touted as “Lin-sanity.” Before he got hurt he was the hype of the season. What did everyone hype on? The fact that he was a Chinese American basketball player. Why couldn’t he have just been a basketball player?”
Instead of projecting outward, Josey asked everyone to “own up to your own imperfections. Work on fixing things on the micro-level. Yourself.”
The 10 minutes remaining in the program, were spent in question and answer. Josey’s positions were challenged the most. The event ended pre-maturely because it ran out of time.
When Alaska Commons contacted Solveig Pedersen to find out what the result of the conversation, she stated that the feedback she has received is that the event was “enriching.” She is brainstorming on how to follow up.