Recently the news has been ablaze with information about Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi, who were recently killed in two separate, yet similar, racial crimes. On Wednesday, April 11, 2012, Bellevue College held a panel discussion entitled “Justice for Trayvon and Shaima” to raise awareness about racial issues and hate crimes, as well as to spark conversations between students.
Martin, an African American teenager, was murdered on Feb. 26 in Sanford, FL, when a white man named George Zimmerman shot him as he was walking home late at night. Zimmerman claimed it was in self-defense and that Martin had attacked him, but as of April 11, he has been charged with second degree murder.
Shaima Alawadi, an Iraqi-American woman and mother of five in El Cajon, California, was found dead in her living room on March 21. Her head was severely injured. Next to her was a note: “Go back to your country, you terrorist.” It is not clear yet whether this is a hate crime against her as a Muslim, an Iraqi, or even as a woman, as recent findings suggest, but her murder has sparked outrage throughout the nation.
The panel was held on April 11 at 12:30 p.m. Sponsored by the ASG, the BSU, the Multi-Cultural Services and the Campus Activities Board, it was originally supposed to be held only in B104, but there were so many students present that they overflowed into a video viewing room (C103) as well. The main focus of the event was creating a safe environment for all minorities and ending discrimination.
The panel consisted of Council of American and Islamic Relations (CAIR) Executive Director Arsalan Bukhari, NAACP-Seattle President James Bible, Kim Pollock and Lori Saffin, both professors at BC, and Hodan Hassan, a Muslim student. Brandon Anderson, president of the ASG, was the moderator.
A lot of the discussion revolved around institutional discrimination and how there aren’t any places in institutions where racism can be addressed. Pollock, an English professor who has taught at BC since 1993, explained, “People are afraid of me because I’m not afraid to use my voice…[but] not talking is what leads people to die.”
CAIR Executive Director, Bukhari, said that “we have to make any issue of injustice an issue to be cared about by the average person.”
Saffin brought up an interesting point by asking how many students present knew what BURST was. When very few students raised their hands, Saffin explained that it is the bias control on campus, to which students are supposed to report instances of bias so appropriate measures can be taken – but reporting bias is difficult if people don’t know that such a group even exists.
One student asked about the current media coverage of Trayvon and Shaima, asking what the panelists felt about the media focusing on things like Trayvon smoking weed once in high school, or the possibility of Shaima’s death being a suicide. Hassan, the student representative on the panel, felt strongly that this is an unfair way to portray the victims because they are black and Islamic.
In response to this question, Pollock believed that “throwing off the focus from the true problem to a peripheral problem is how the dominant culture works.”
Bible also pointed out that although racism is not yet over, we can help by changing how we think. “Rather than thinking ‘Who are we going to offend?’ take the opposite approach. Who are we going to make feel safe and included?”
Pollock added, “It’s not just about being of color. It’s about being human.