'We have to get back to love': Trayvon Martin's father speaks during anti-violence event in East St. Louis

News-DemocratJanuary 25, 2014 

— City leaders on Saturday kicked off a 40-day campaign for non-violence they hope will jumpstart the end to the violence in the community.

The theme was "If a day can make a difference, what a difference 40 days can make."

Workshops about conflict resolution, how to dress to impress, how to get fit and others were held at Lincoln Middle School.

The kickoff featured Tracy Martin who called for an end to violence. He is the father of Trayvon Martin, who was killed in Florida in 2012 by a neighborhood watchman.

Tracy Martin, who grew up in East St. Louis, told the crowd that he was thankful for the 17 years his son had on this earth and that he would use the energy his son didn't get the chance to use to help other young people and their families.

"It's imperative that we, as a community, come together in times like these, with all the violence that's going on. We, as father and mother figures, have to get to our kids and care for them, assure them that they are not alone," he said.

Martin told his audience that he was reminded of a book by Frederick Douglas, in which slaves were bickering over whose master was the best.

"It always ended in some type of fight," Martin said. "It seems that we've adapted this lifestyle. We don't get along with each other. We have to disenfranchise this monster. We have to take the kids back to church. Without faith, there is no hope. We have to speak positive messages to the kids, and lead by example. Our kids have no direction. You get what you put out. If you put out positive vibes, you'll receive positive vibes. If you put out negative vibes, that's what you will get. I'm a firm believer in karma."

Martin said members of the media often ask him is whether he would pursue justice the same way he pursued justice for his son if the shooter had been black. Martin said the individual's race didn't matter.

"It doesn't matter who pulled the trigger. You can't go around taking a person's life and think it's OK. I would pursue justice just the same -- white, black, Asian."

Speaking on the amount of black on black killings, Martin said, "We are killing ourselves at an alarming rate. We have to get back to love. We lack love and compassion for one another. We have got to get back to loving our neighbors."

Retired St. Clair County Judge Milton Wharton; Richard Mark, CEO of Ameren Illinois; Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville; State Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis; and Stanley Franklin, president of the local NAACP, were just some of the dignitaries who came out to East St. Louis City hall's rotunda building before 7 a.m. to participate in the event.

The event was sponsored by the U.S. Tennis Association, Missouri Valley, Clear Channel Radio and Ameren Illinois.

In conjunction with the non-violence campaign, the St. Clair County State's Attorney's office hosted a Clean Slate Day to allow people with warrants to get them lifted and start anew.

Before 7 a.m., a line had started forming. As the line grew, several were allowed to come inside the building early.

Kahala Clay, the circuit clerk of St. Clair County, said the line was not unusual. She said when the weather was warmer, there were even longer lines.

Charlando Hargrove was the first one in line. He said it was good thing that St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly did for the people and he was very grateful.

"I am here because I want to get my warrant lifted," Hargrove said. He hopes that there will be more Clean Slate Days to give more people a chance. "There are a lot of people who can't afford to pay," he said.

Casey Rigsby learned about the event from his mother and he said he was not about to miss his opportunity to clear his warrant.

"It's a good thing," he said smiling.

In all, there were 463 cases, with about 90 percent of them involving traffic offenses. There were a few MetroLink tickets and some misdemeanors, Kelly said.

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

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