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The Strain of the American Fabric

Hundreds of years in the making, the U.S. remains divided

Sybrina+Fulton+%28center%29+and+Lezley+Mcspadden+%28right%29+chatting
Sybrina Fulton (center) and Lezley Mcspadden (right) chatting

Sybrina Fulton (center) and Lezley Mcspadden (right) chatting

Edna Cerritos

Edna Cerritos

Sybrina Fulton (center) and Lezley Mcspadden (right) chatting

Kyle Frizol, Intern

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In recent memory, police violence has seen widespread attention across media networks and has surfaced deep rooted frustrations in cities and communities throughout the country. Consequently, the attention placed on police isn’t without a great amount of controversy, in regions covering much of the U.S., namely (and recently) in Florida, California, and Mississippi. Notably, the outcry of the mothers of two recently killed African American teenagers has prompted a demand for change. These two mothers, coined the “Mothers of the Movement” as they travel the country speaking to students, organizations, and other groups, visited the university last Monday to address these very issues.

If one particular case comes to mind when thinking of law enforcement deviance, it’s the recent killing of Trayvon Martin by a Florida neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman. When this occurred, the entire country seemed to split along an unseen divided line, that is in support of Trayvon and the other side against him. Specifically, in places throughout Florida, riots and protests quickly developed in response to Martin’s death.

As it stood, the grounds for the killing was an act of self-defense by Zimmerman, who claimed that Trayvon attacked him and attempted to beat him to death. As a result, his only means of self-defense that came to mind was to pull out his pistol and shoot Trayvon, an action that he truly believed was a matter of life and death.

In the transcript between Zimmerman and the police dispatch, controversial comments left his argument with extreme amounts of contempt and uneasiness. “These people always victimize the neighborhood,” he spoke to Florida dispatch.

After the trial, protests erupted throughout the country when the verdict of Zimmerman’s actions reached a decision, that is not guilty, on the grounds of insufficient evidence to prove that his actions were offensive rather than a means of self-defense.

Following Trayvon Martin’s death, an equally controversial and protest-invoking killing occurred, that of Michael Brown who was a teenage boy of similar age to Trayvon. In an act of self-defense, the officer testified that he was simply trying to stay alive, and that Brown had not only attempted to grab his gun from inside the police vehicle, but also ran at him with the intention of killing him. “If I could buy 30 seconds of time, someone else will be here, we can make the arrest, nothing happens, we are all good. And it didn’t happen that way,” he explained during his testimony in court.

In Ferguson, where Brown was killed, massive protests existed for weeks. These were protests that required the national guard and federally armed forces to lock the city down and administer curfews in order to attempt to ease the tension between the crowd and law enforcement.

In the months following both Martin’s and Brown’s deaths, the families of both parties continued to fight for justice, and worked in their communities and in cities throughout the country in an attempt to incite a revolution that would require police officers and law enforcement to adjust the way they dealt with traditional (and special) emergency calls and more importantly, their means of subduing and restraining suspects.

Quickly, by using social media, notably on Twitter where hashtags allow for similar topics to be organized in one place, the trending #blacklivesmatter hashtag grew into a widespread movement. For many, it felt that the country was blindfolding itself and mumbling reassuring promises that the racism and segregating nature of the country was long since behind them.

“Black Lives Matter,” a blend between a campaign and a cry for revolution, allowed individuals such as Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon Martin) and Lezley McSpadden (Michael Brown), the mothers of the two deceased teenagers that sparked the recent protests and cry for change, an opportunity to bring the injustices and crimes committed by law enforcement and other individuals out of the shadows and into the light.

For Fulton and McSpadden, they will never see their children again, a result that they believe is attributed to the fact that the U.S. justice system is inadequate and ineffective in providing morally and ethically sound practices to all individuals regardless of their skin color or ethnicity.

At their “Mothers of the Movement” event on campus last Monday evening, Fulton explained her attendance. “I am here today because of my son, Trayvon, who is no longer here with us,” she explained to the ballroom attendees. With dozens of students, faculty, and others in attendance, the energy of the room all seemed to radiate from the speakers. “The continuing disregard for every single life in this country is one that is only becoming increasingly tragic.” McSpadden explained.

By promoting awareness to the continuing injustices minorities face every day, they believe that they have the power, alongside others that can come together, to bring real change to the country, and moreover the rest of the world collectively. Through this change, they feel that they may be able to work towards ensuring that no other family will ever have to experience what they already have. This is a distant goal, it unfortunately appears. “We must all come together and fight injustice and corruption, for our children’s sake,” said Fulton.

The foundation of U.S. law enforcement finds that protecting the citizens of the country should always be the primary objective, but sometimes the line between right and wrong can become increasingly difficult to decipher and determine. The direct result of such difficult instances when the self-defense of an officer potentially deviates into the realm of aggression and provoked offensive actions lies in the cases of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. These two individuals, young teenage boys that were just barely legal adults, found themselves unknowingly in a place where great nationwide strife and anger would erupt.

Regardless of what side of the argument an individual finds themselves, it’s undeniable that the country is currently amidst a national struggle to find the balance and equal treatment of every single citizen that calls the U.S. their home. For Fulton and McSpadden, the U.S. is a long way from fixing its deep-rooted issues that have spanned hundreds of years, into the birth of the country itself.

“We all have the power to change, but we must first identify the issue and find a common ground.” McSpadden inquired. However, progress is still transpiring, primarily in the hands of individuals that are directly affected by the behavior and adversity they face and encounter day to day in communities where law enforcement follows its own code of conduct, and the ethics and morals expected are nothing more than a suggestion. Hundreds of years in the making, true equality will eventually be reached, but the cost of such a utopia will perceptibly increase until such a day is reached.

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The Strain of the American Fabric