As a crowd of people collects on the corner of Fremont Street and The Boulevard, you might miss the slight white woman with the flaming red hair. Shorter than her three kids, barely audible through the megaphone she’s speaking into, this small mother may speak softly but her impact on Las Vegas was big on Tuesday night. On this muggy night, amongst pushing tourists and honking horns, Tonya Clemons is standing her ground.
“It could have been one of them,” Clemons says, motioning to her two teenage sons and daughter.
The stay-at-home mom organized the Justice for Trayvon Martin March because each of her kids reminds her of the teenage boy who was shot by George Zimmerman last year. As in many cities across the country, the mission of Clemons’ march was a kind of justice that did not come from the Florida court that just acquitted Zimmerman. While Zimmerman has been able to hide behind the so-called “Stand Your Ground” gun laws in Florida (as well as 29 other states), these rallies have been a place for many folks to vent their outrage that a grown man who was essentially stalking Martin could get away with murder, while similar cases (with black defendants) – like the almost identical one in New York and that of the Florida woman who got 20 years for shooting warning shots against her abuser – have gone in a distinctly different direction.
SCS intern De’Liza and I counted about 100 people who showed up with signs, passion, and yes, hoodies (in 110 degree heat, if you can believe it!). The crowd was decorated with a broad spectrum of people. Women and children holding more than just Skittles and Arizona Tea, there were lit candles, handmade signs, and an air of blessings spoken by a pixie-like woman. Even the Greyhound bus passing by gave a series of supportive honks.
But while many of these rallies have been organized by big organizations, here in Las Vegas it was on the slight shoulders of one strong mom who couldn’t let the Trayvon Martin trial outcome go unanswered in her own community or in front of her own kids.
“It hits personally for me in a lot of ways,” Clemons says, motioning to her kids. Each of her kids standing next to her – two adopted black sons and her mixed-race daughter – dressed in hoodies that they “live in all winter.”
Indeed, Clemons’ daughter, Maleena Mclean, a 17-year-old senior at Valley High School, says she routinely walks home from basketball practice on the dark Las Vegas streets, with her hood up.
“From the back, she looks like a guy,” Clemons says. “She fits the profile. If it had been her, she would have done the same thing. She would have run [like Trayvon Martin did].”
Tears wet Clemons’ eyes as she talks about her kids and the constant threat to their safety just because we live in a world that promotes a culture of fear of black people, particularly young black men. Meanwhile, the media hasn’t been doing much to help the situation (here’s looking at you CNN).
Just before Mclean takes the megaphone to lead the march down Las Vegas Boulevard – chants of “No Justice: No Peace” echoing down the street – she speaks passionately about her mother and changing the world.
“My mom is my role model every day of my life,” Mclean says, giving a loving glance at her mom.
Mclean says she has wanted to be a lawyer since she was seven and plans to study law and perhaps one day go into politics – to take down the system from the inside, as her mother adds.
As the sun dims and the neon lights flicker on, the chants continue to ring out. Only time will tell if that bell will ring in each of us to stand up and be a part of the change that needs to happen.
And as a middle-aged white woman (Emmily), I wanted to say that it is important that my fellow white people stand up to not just the institutionalized racism in our society that gives men like Zimmerman a pass on murder, but it is imperative that we look ourselves in the mirror and acknowledge our white privilege – both seen and unseen – that we benefit from every single minute, whether we want to or not. Additionally, white women, must acknowledge the historic privilege we have collectively wielded over men of color, a concept taken apart brilliantly in this Feministing post. (If reading this offends you or causes you to feel defensive — but I have [people of color] friends — that is a sign that you do not see your own privilege.)
Entering Fremont Street to see a crowd of not only minorities like myself (De’Liza) but to see white men and women standing together has made me realize that in The United States of America, we truly can be united.