Million Hoodies Movement For Justice was one of the first groups to form and respond to the death of Trayvon Martin. In the last three years, their network has grown to over 50,000 people, and they have raised millions of dollars for victims of gun violence and their families. MTV News asked Dante Barry, the Executive Director of Million Hoodies to reflect on the movement that is changing the country.
By Dante Barry, Executive Director of Million Hoodies Movement For Justice
On February 26, 2012, unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida simply because he “looked suspicious.” Just a few days ago, the Department of Justice decided to not pursue civil rights charges against the vigilante. February 5th would have been Trayvon's 20th birthday.
Three years later -- justice denied.
Every 28 hours a Black woman, man, or child is killed by a self-appointed vigilante, security guard, or police officer.
Although disappointed and saddened to hear about the Justice Department’s decision to not pursue civil rights charges against Trayvon's assailant, George Zimmerman, I am not surprised. I am not surprised because the decision further proves that this system was not designed or set up to protect Black and Brown bodies.
Trayvon Martin did not receive justice, but his spirit empowered a generation of youth activism that seeks to make positive change and guarantee that Black lives matter.
#Blacklivesmatter is a political project developed by Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors after Zimmerman walked away with an acquittal in 2013. Black lives matter is a political demand that ultimately challenges ourselves and the status quo to think about what our communities look like when Black lives matter.
The death of Trayvon Martin became a national flashpoint, and served as a precursor to the uprisings across the country in response to police killings in 2014. No, Trayvon Martin will not get justice, but the conditions leading up to Trayvon’s death is what inspired Black youth to demand that their lives mattered.
The Dream Defenders in Florida, the Black Youth Project 100 in Chicago, and Million Hoodies Movement for Justice in New York are part of a cadre of young Black activists and organizers who are responding boldly to the injustice of mass criminalization and violence inflicted upon our communities. Some of us might even argue that we are entering a third reconstruction, a continuum of struggle for dignity, justice, and freedom in the Black liberation movement.
Million Hoodies was founded a month after Trayvon’s death in part because of the media’s failure to adequately report on the events leading up to his death, and afterwards. While Zimmerman remained free, the mainstream media failed in covering the story. The traditional narrative became one about a law enforcement or vigilante hero and a criminal Black person. Mass media images perpetuate this sense of criminalization through television shows like "Cops" and "Law and Order."
Three years ago today, Trayvon was dressed in a hoodie and some in the media criminalized his clothing choice, suggesting that just wearing a hoodie warrants getting shot.
Today Million Hoodies empowers a network of online members and college chapters across the nation who are working to protect and empower young people of color from mass criminalization and gun violence. We use creative technology, grassroots organizing, and strategic communications in order to challenge the frameworks that perpetuate institutional discrimination.
We recognize that the death of Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Michael Brown and others are deeply embedded in injustice and structural racism. We must attack the root causes of these problems in order to put a stop to the senseless deaths and systemic violence inflicted on Black communities today.
As we celebrate Trayvon’s life today, our mission becomes clearer: we are building a radically transformed world where one day Black lives matter.