Jasmine Rand, former lawyer for the Trayvon Martin family, spoke in Annenberg Hall on Tuesday night about the Martin case, her personal experiences as a lawyer and what communities can do to improve nationally and globally with respect to race and the law.
Rand, who is now an adjunct professor at the University of Miami School of Law, was the lead attorney in the case of Trayvon Martin, where an unarmed African-American teenager was fatally shot by George Zimmerman. Her speech, titled “Hoodies & Hate Crimes” was given in conjunction with For Members Only’s annual State of the Black Union, in which Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, spoke.
“It’s really a gamble on Northwestern’s campus,” Taylor Billings, a Weinberg senior and one of the co-chairs of Northwestern Community Development Corps, said of the speech, expressing concern about attendance. “I want people who do come to get something out of it.”
The speech, which was co-sponsored by NCDC and the Peace Project, was attended by over 50 students.
Rand started by encouraging students to pursue leadership, even when faced with difficulties.
“I hope that if you take anything away from the discussion we have tonight, it’s a sense that you have the ability to create change,” she said.
Rand cited her experience with “I am Trayvon Martin,” a grassroots movement that students in one of her classes at Florida A&M University started.
“That movement wasn’t born out of millions and millions of dollars,” she said. “This was a movement that was started by the people… The truth of the matter is, George Zimmerman would have never been tried by a jury of his peers if it wasn’t for the outcry of the citizens of the United States.”
Rand went on to speak about continuing injustices in the U.S., specifically focusing on “stand your ground” laws that she believes contribute to racism in the country.
“What happens," she said, "is the same vigilante behavior that was implemented by lynch mobs back in the day, except it looks different. Except it’s legal. It’s called ‘stand your ground,’ and it’s all throughout our states."
In speaking about the Trayvon Martin case, Rand criticized the legal system, calling it “flawed.”
“I believe that the prosecution performed to the best extent that the prosecution was capable of performing,” she said. “I believe it was the biases of the jurors that led them to that conclusion. And nothing can convince me otherwise.”
Many Northwestern students were surprised at the content of Rand’s speech.
“She was incredibly candid,” Julia Watson, a Weinberg senior and Associated Student Government president, noting that the speech was “much more” than she had expected.
“I was expecting to hear some more bickering about the case,” Ben Henken, a Weinberg sophomore, said. “I was not expecting her to be so inspirational.”
Weinberg senior Emily Shraudenbach identified Rand as “a really great role model,” but also criticized her speech. “At the beginning, I felt like it was a little bit rocky,” Shraudenbach said.
For Rand, speaking to students is a rewarding and inspirational experience.
“This is what energizes me,” she said. “I learn more about myself, and I learn more about the Trayvon case every time.”