Archive for the ‘Protest’ Category

Here in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of America where hardly anyone pays attention to what goes on, one voice continues to cry out for justice for Trayvon Martin and for a change in Stand Your Ground laws.

And after a year-and-a-half of reading and hearing some of the most vile comments you could never imagine people thinking, much less expressing, about a 17-year-old boy who was killed while walking home from buying candy and iced tea, I was surprised and grateful as Sean sat next to me and uttered the most righteous words I’ve heard since Trayvon’s killer George Zimmerman walked free.

“I wish I had been there to walk him home,” Sean told me.

Sean’s reaction is in stark contrast to that of many to this day. Each new day, each new week seems to bring opportunities to Zimmerman supporters to both blame Trayvon Martin for his own death and to denigrate his family and the entire Black American population for every societal ill, past and present. Then again, Sean is most definitely not a Zimmerman supporter.

Sean Steppenwolf Soroko, 22, is a student at Emporia State University. And he is White.

This summer he worked full time doing physical labor at the Docking State Office Building in Topeka. The work was so physically demanding that sometimes it was hard for him to find the energy but writing is how he works through his thoughts and feelings. When he has a chance he writes; this summer a lot of poetry, but he is still finding his creative writing legs and is pursuing writing at college.

Seans Poem

Sean Soroko wrote this poem after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Sean’s brow furrows as he contemplates the teenager’s death, as he still does often. The pain is real and evident.

“I wish I was there to tell Zimmerman to back off.”

Sean Soroko is where White America could and should be but isn’t willing to travel. He feels to his core the pain of Trayvon Martin’s parents and he actually mourns the death of a young man deprived of a future. He is the physical embodiment of the (White) person I have been seeking online all summer. He empathizes with people who do not look like him.

Two weeks after the not guilty verdict the wound in his soul appeared not as deep as  the week immediately following.

“I’m still very disappointed but I’m ranting less about it,” he said.

He appreciated the comments from Juror B29 who said she believes that the law required a decision that she felt in her heart let Zimmerman get away with murder.

“Unfortunately, that’s not going to change the way the verdict came out,” he said. “I understand the pressure she had to put up with being on the jury.”

Sean also isn’t one of those people who hide behind the anonymity of their keyboards and spout off about Trayvon and Zimmerman and Black people knowing they won’t face any consequences for their offensive behavior.

He started following the story in its earliest stages when he signed an online petition urging an investigation into the young man’s death. He felt the need to become involved because Trayvon was so young, because his death seemed avoidable and because it seemed as if his death was being treated as “he’s just another Black kid.”

“Growing up with Black kids had a good effect on me. I didn’t see them as the stereotypes most White people did. (His death) touched an emotional spot in me.”

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Sean Soroko displayed a sign he carried in Topeka, Kansas, to protest the George Zimmerman verdict. Kansas is one of the 26 states that have the law.

He has been a vocal activist, perhaps even risking his personal safety at times, so strong has been his commitment to Trayvon’s cause. Even before the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network was calling for a national day of action Sean was taking action of his own.

“I felt provoked. I wanted to voice my disapproval about the trial, the act, stand your ground and that night in February.”

So he went home and made a sign:

REPEAL THE STAND YOUR GROUND LAW NOW!

And even though he was dead tired at the end of the day and even though it was 90-some degrees outside every day, he went to the busiest intersections in Topeka on three days before the nationwide day of protests, which marked his fourth, and held up his sign — alone.

The reaction was mixed.

He heard what he called a lot of vicious, soulless comments. For example, he heard:

“You’re not too bright, are you?”

“One woman took it upon herself to bring up the OJ trial as a rebuttal and a weak rebuttal it was. OJ murdered people. Trayvon didn’t murder anyone. What reason would you have to use him? I was a little kid when OJ happened. But (I know) that was very different by a long shot.”

Language Alert: Sean excuses himself before sharing the following story. One woman said “ ‘one less nigger around.’ My first thought was how dare you have the audacity to use that word.”

He often wanted to tell people to “stick your sack of soulless comments where your heart should be” but he didn’t. He just kept holding his sign even when it wasn’t clear that it was safe to do so.

He did get some positive responses. Some drivers honked as they passed by, some offered him their thumbs up or a peace sign in approval.

“It takes more than one person to make a difference but maybe gradually through time more people will follow.”

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Sean Soroko and Lee Sterrett

He convinced a friend, Lee Sterrett, to join him for an hour one day. Lee is not as invested as Sean and chose to approach the task with humor. His sign read:

KEEP VIGILANTES IN COMIC BOOKS

Lee said he wanted people to think about the issue in a different way and people did react differently to his sign than they did to Sean’s sign next to his. They shared a laugh.

Unlike Sean, Lee isn’t closely following the issue — he kept misstating Zimmerman’s first name — but he sees in its aftermath a trend in our society toward a need to tear down others and believes we need to empower ourselves to move beyond hate, fear and despair to confront that tendency and help someone else.

Lee likens some people’s reactions to Trayvon Martin to their reaction to himself, (he is somewhat heavy-set) when he was walking down the street.

“People honked at me. People made fun of me. I thought, ‘Really?’ Why not offer me a ride?’ Basically, if we are going to conquer fear, despair and hate it comes down to being willing to pick up on trust, hope and love.”

He said what he saw with the George (yes, he happily got it right this time) Zimmerman trial was people pitted against each other.

“What I find interesting is when someone is on the stand, when someone is on trial, we don’t wait to identify why? Are you looking out a window or are you looking in a mirror? What if George Zimmerman was looking back at you in the mirror? We all have the same potential within us as George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin.

“What makes George Zimmerman a bad guy?,” Lee asked. “You have to ask yourself did he do the same thing any of us could do? Who are we to say Trayvon Martin deserved to die? Are we G-d?”

Lee won’t consider who is right or wrong in the debate over whether Zimmerman profiled Martin and whether he got away with murder because he believes only Zimmerman can answer that question.

This protest isn’t a passing thing for Sean; a couple of weeks pass and you just forget about it.

“I followed the story closely for what seemed to be a very long year and I will continue to follow it,” he said. “I felt devastated (at the not guilty verdict). It just boggled my mind that a man could get away with shooting someone because he wanted to. He was a two-bit vigilante and it looked like the justice system didn’t work. The thing that got to me was seeing the smile on his face. He didn’t care. He’s just happy to be off the hook, or he thinks he’s off the hook.”

Just days ago Sean signed and posted on his Facebook page the new petition from Trayvon’s parents, “Change for Trayvon: Stand Your Ground Laws Must Be Reviewed”.

“I’m 100 percent proud of what I’ve done,” Sean said. I didn’t care (if he got hurt). I don’t care. I would still stand there with that sign.”

Even if he weren’t heading back to college Sean couldn’t hold that that sign up anymore.

“An African-American teenager came up to me and said he liked my sign so I gave it to him and told him to keep spreading the message. Keep it alive and keep it going.”

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