On a recent Saturday morning a diverse group of about 150 people, including police officers, poets, clergy, coaches, students and the Los Angeles County sheriff, sat down to share their perspectives on the shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin and a Florida jury’s exoneration of his killer, George Zimmerman.
The event, entitled Days of Dialogue: Trayvon Martin: Unfinished Business, was sponsored by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Empowerment Congress and several nonprofit organizations.
“This is a methodology that we have used for many years, starting with the O.J. Simpson verdicts,” the Supervisor said. “It brings together people who want to have a serious conversation about the crises that confront us, and then they take what they have share back into the communities, offices, churches and homes.”
Throughout the morning, participants sat at small tables in the Supervisor’s Exposition Park constituent office, with trained moderators who guided their discussion.
“The beauty of this type of engagement is that we all come to the table as equals,” the Supervisor added.
Indeed that was the case. LAPD captains and officers, as well as the US Attorney for the Central District of California Andre Birotte, Jr., Sheriff Lee Baca, City Attorney Mike Feuer, senior citizens, community activists and many others shared and traded opinions.
Christopher Hampton, 21, sat at a table with Baca, and after the event said the experience had altered his perspective on law enforcement.
“I never would’ve thought the Sheriff would’ve been so receptive to hearing me, but he was. I think more people need to know that. They need to know that the Sheriff really listens,” Hampton said.
Never far from the conversation was the topic of racial profiling and the senseless death of a teenager “armed” only with a bag of Skittles and a soda.
“These stand your ground laws are a problem, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re in Los Angles or in Florida,” Baca said. “If I go to Florida and I’m not in uniform, does that mean it’s all right for someone to harm me because they say I pose a threat?”
Despite the seriousness of the conversations, the morning ended with many positive reflections and calls for more dialogues.
As Sharon Lyle of Long Beach put it, the shooting of Trayvon Martin had this outcome: “It destroyed a life but created a movement.