SUNDAY TIMES - A shameful silence speaks all too loudly
Sunday Times STLive By Lihle Z Mtshali , 2012-03-25 00:05:09.0

A shameful silence speaks all too loudly

I ATTENDED a rally and march in Manhattan's Union Square on Wednesday evening with thousands of people.

We wore hooded jackets and held signs bearing photos of a black teenager called Trayvon Martin.

Martin was just 17 years old when he was shot dead on February 26 in Florida by 28-year-old George Zimmerman, an overzealous neighbourhood-watch volunteer of white and Latino heritage. Almost a month later, he has yet to be arrested.

It was a rainy Sunday evening and the high school pupil, wearing a hoodie to shield his head, was walking back from a supermarket when Zimmerman, who was patrolling the area, spotted him and called 911 to report "a real suspicious guy". He then followed Martin - against the 911 dispatcher's orders.

Martin, who was on the phone with his girlfriend, noticed the man following him and tried to lose him, but the man caught up with him and asked him what he was doing there. Minutes later the boy, who had attended classes at an aviation school and had dreams of becoming an aeroplane mechanic, lay dead. His killer pleaded self-defence.

Zimmerman is free today because he is protected by Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which gives Floridians the right to use deadly force if they fear their lives are threatened.

At the Million Hoodie March, Martin's mother reminded us that "our son is your son".

Indeed, he is, and that is why I went to Union Square. I have friends here raising young black men who run the risk of being randomly killed by a nervous white person, or being the victims of the New York Police Department's controversial "stop-and-frisk" policy. Their crimes would be "walking while black" and "looking suspicious".

Whereas the whole country was talking about this case, black and white alike, the four Republican candidates who want to be the next US president had nothing to say about it.

Illinois on Tuesday, during the primary where Mitt Romney clobbered Rick Santorum, would have been the perfect place for the candidates to voice their disapproval of what had happened in Florida. It is, after all, the political home of the Grand Old Party's Abraham Lincoln, who abolished slavery. And let us not forget: President Barack Obama, a black man who has endured prejudice from some of the candidates, had been a senator in Illinois.

At election time you want to address issues that concern the people you hope to one day lead.

When they head to the polls on November 6, minorities - the blacks and Hispanics who are the primary targets of racial profiling - will remember the Republican candidates' deafening silence when one of their own was killed.