Residents hold vigil in Janesville for Trayvon Martin

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Saturday, March 31, 2012
— Her face lit by a candle in a plastic cup, Stacey Schenck pointed to the pink hooded sweatshirt that she had pulled up over her head in Janesville’s Lower Courthouse Park on Friday night.

To her, the hood was more than symbolic.

“This isn’t just about a hoodie,” Schenck said. “People should be accepted no matter who they are, what they look like, and what they’re wearing.”

Schenck, a Janesville resident, was one of 75 people who held candles and listened to speakers at a vigil Friday in downtown Janesville. The event was held to eulogize and protest the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Martin, 17, a high school student, was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, while he was walking home Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla.

Martin, who was black, reportedly was wearing a hooded sweatshirt at the time.

Federal and state officials have launched a probe into Martin’s slaying, and a wave of protests has swept the country amid a growing outcry over possible racism on the part of Zimmerman and how authorities have handled the killing.

Zimmerman reportedly had followed Martin before shooting the teen with a 9 mm pistol. Zimmerman reportedly had followed Martin before shooting the teen with a 9 mm handgun. Despite some public clamoring for his arrest, as of Friday Zimmerman had not been charged.

Janesville City Councilman Sam Liebert was one of the vigil’s organizers.

Liebert, who is black, told the gathering Friday that he and co-organizer Megan Schutte of Janesville wanted to use the vigil to “show the city and the county and the state and the country that Janesville is not a place that tolerates racism or discrimination or enforces stereotypes.”

Liebert told the crowd that Janesville has a growing minority population and pointed out that 12 percent of students in Janesville schools are black. He used the vigil as an opportunity to plug a volunteer panel that he is a member of—the Janesville Police Department’s African American Liaison Committee.

One of the committee’s main goals is to encourage African-Americans to become police officers, Liebert said.

“Janesville has never had an African-American police officer,” he said. “We believe that our police department should reflect the people that it polices.”

Bree Coffey, a Janesville native who teaches sociology at UW-Milwaukee, was one of several people who spoke at the vigil.

Coffey said she was angry that Martin’s life was taken. She believed his death was a result of profiling based on his appearance.

Martin was reportedly carrying during his fatal encounter was a bag of candy and a can of iced tea, according to police reports.

A friend who was talking to Martin on a cellphone during the incident said Martin had expressed concern that Zimmerman was following him. She said she heard a struggle before Zimmerman shot Martin.

“This case is not about black versus white, or Hispanic versus black. It is about right or wrong,” Coffey said. “This case has made us question how we are perceived by others and how we perceive them. Why does a young black man with a hoodie look suspicious for some people?”

Coffey laid out her hope simply.

“May justice and healing come,” she said.

Janesville resident Dan Heussner, 74, said he is a longtime civil rights activist. Heussner, who went to a mixed-race high school in Illinois and lives in the Fourth Ward, said Martin’s killing and its fallout jump out in his mind as a sign of the lingering racial tension in the country.

“This incident is festering to a point where it’s become visible everywhere, to everyone,” Heussner said.

He said he hopes that people’s concerns are heard.

“I really hope people can keep public dialogue on this going so that it reaches some kind of justice,” he said.

Last updated: 7:49 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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