In recent days, hundreds of thousands across the nation are taking to the streets in protest of the Florida court’s decision to acquit George Zimmerman on all charges for the murder of black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012.
Martin was a seventeen-year-old high school student returning from the store with a bag of skittles and an ice tea to a family friend’s home in a gated community when he was shot and killed by self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. The fact that the murder of an unarmed teenager walking alone at night could deliver a “not guilty” verdict is the result not only of the racially biased “Stand Your Ground” law, but of racist structures that permeate our society at every level. The defense built its case for Zimmerman’s acquittal based on his perception that Martin was a danger to the neighborhood — an argument that seemed to boil down to the simple fact that Martin was a black teenager wearing a hoodie. Zimmerman followed Martin in his car and got out to confront him, despite explicit instructions not to do so after calling 911. Subsequently, it took the district attorney more than a month to file charges against Zimmerman, and charges were only filed after a national outcry over Martin’s murder. A botched investigation, the court’s refusal to permit evidence more favorable to the prosecution, and a defense tactic in which Martin was put on trial, rather than Zimmerman, were all factors in Zimmerman’s acquittal.
The lives of young people like Trayvon Martin, who are barred from realizing their dreams by the violence of prejudice, discrimination, poverty, incarceration, and the structural racism of our educational institutions, will haunt us as we work towards creating a truly accessible public university.
The University of California is complicit in this cycle of racial oppression. Since the passage of Proposition 209 and the UC Regents’ resolution to eliminate race and ethnicity from admissions criteria in 1995, the UC has seen significant drops in Black, African American, Latin@, and American Indian students. In 2009, the gap between underrepresented minorities graduating from California high schools and those who enrolled as freshmen at the UC was a startling 23.3%. Such abysmal numbers reflect the UC’s ongoing push towards privatization, a project that at its core threatens the livelihood of students of color and other underrepresented groups by making public higher education untenable. In recent years this has manifested itself in blatant acts of racism on UC campuses, like the infamous “Compton Cookout” at UC San Diego and the use of blackface by a fraternity at UC Irvine. These attacks on Black students cannot be seen as isolated incidents, but rather actions that reflect the structural racism that plagues the UC and our society as a whole.
Accordingly, the UC Student-Workers Union, UAW 2865, condemns the Zimmerman verdict and stands in solidarity with Trayvon Martin, his family and loved ones, and all those fighting to end this country’s legacy of racial hatred and violence. We stand in solidarity with those who fight Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” legislation and with those who fight the racism of a legal system that offers no protection or justice for Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, or countless others who have lost their lives and futures because of white supremacy. Today, we reaffirm our commitment as a union to fighting racism in all its forms in our society and at our university. We call on our fellow members to participate in local actions in support of the Justice for Trayvon campaign and to sign the online petition urging the Department of Justice to open a civil rights case against George Zimmerman.
For information on local actions, please contact:
Santa Barbara: “Coalition for Justice”, firstname.lastname@example.org
 Perez, Erica. “Despite diversity efforts, UC minority enrollment down since Prop. 209.” California Watch. http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/despite-diversity-efforts-uc-minority-enrollment-down-prop-209-15031