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Panel at St. Paul Baptist Church Discusses How to Keep Black Youth Safe and How to Prevent Another ‘Trayvon Martin’

Pictured from (l. to r.) Moderator Bishop Broderick Huggins; Panelist Jeffrey Stewart, Chair, Department of Black Studies, UCSB; Ross Fontes, Counselor EOPS; Oxnard Fire Chief James A. Williams; and Oxnard Chief of Police Jeri Williams

By Peggy Hunt

Respecting authority, taking education seriously and relearning the moral lessons derived from church are the three main ways Oxnard’s black male youth can stay out of the criminal justice system. The esteemed panel of African-Americans included: Oxnard Chief of Police Jeri Williams, Oxnard Fire Chief James A. Williams, Professor Jeffrey Stewart, Chair, Department of Black Studies, UCSB and Ross Fontes, Counselor EOPS, Oxnard College. Bishop Broderick Huggins served as moderator of the event. All panelist agreed that for an added layer of protection, more black men should serve as mentors and role models for young men. The panel, held on Sunday, was hosted at Saint Paul Baptist Church, located at 1777 Statham Blvd., in Oxnard. More than 100 people attended the event to hear the panelists discuss how to prevent another child from ending up like Trayvon Martin.

During the discussion, panelist Jeffrey Stewart said, “I feel what you guys are going through. But you have to feel and think that you are more competent than they are. You have to show them that you are smarter than they are. You have to leave the situation alive and not like Trayvon Martin.”

“If you are stopped by an officer and he is nasty and aggressive with you for no reason, then ask him, ‘How are you doing today officer? Are you having a bad day? I hope your day gets better.’”

“Or say nothing. If asked to sit down on the curb, sit down on the curb.”

“Answer the officer’s questions with ‘Yes, officer’ and ‘No, officer’. You must avoid being entrapped by those individuals.”
“They are afraid of you. Zimmerman would not have approached Trayvon without having a gun.”

Stewart continued, “If someone is willing to get in your face, they are probably carrying a gun. Respect the person; be nice and do not be confrontational. You must be the master. You must learn to control the situation.”

Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, was killed in Florida in February by a neighborhood watch volunteer who is white and Hispanic. Police initially declined to arrest the volunteer, George Zimmerman, citing Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force when they believe they are in danger. Zimmerman was not arrested initially as he claimed he acted in self-defense. He was later arrested on April 11 on second-degree murder charges, but was released on a $150,000 bond on April 22.

Stewart concluded with “America is, once again, at a crossroads. Trayvon Martin’s murder and the Florida jury’s acquittal of George Zimmerman for that murder challenge us with a question: ‘Do we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?’ If we do believe these words of the Declaration of Independence, then we must bring about a radical change in our court system to punish those who treat others unequally and to stop judging others on the basis of skin color. If not, our founding fathers’ words are a lie, and our future as a people is bleak.”

Pastor of Saint Paul Baptist Church and moderator of the forum,. Bishop Broderick A. Huggins said, “There are Trayvons living all over the U.S. What kind of world are we living in that we can put a black man in the White House, but a black teen carrying a bag of Skittles candy and an iced tea cannot walk through a gated community to get home. My son was murdered by police. I am not saying he was guilty, but even if he was guilty, no one deserves to be shot seventeen times. If my son was guilty of anything, he was guilty of not being up on his game. You must have a relationship with God.”

Oxnard Police Chief Jeri Williams advised parents to have conversations with their kids and help them to not be targets. She noted that females do not have the same experiences with police as black males.

The church hosted the forum for fathers and sons to encourage dialog about the Trayvon Martin shooting and what young black men can do to protect themselves. A number of people told of their experiences with police and institutions of learning.

It was noted that there are more and more parents allowing their children to not attend church and that action is making today’s youth forget how to respect authority. If more black youth were in the church, they would learn, for example, to be respectful when pulled over by a police officer.

For more information about future forums, call Saint Paul Baptist Church at (805) 487-2015.

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