Florida teen's death spurs DFW college students to rally

ARLINGTON -- North Texas college students were so moved by last month's shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin that they took to Twitter and Facebook this week with a call to mobilize.

"Justice For Trayvon!" University of Texas at Arlington students wrote on Twitter on Friday.

"Big ups to all the other universities organizing a march for #TrayvonMartin. Our generation cares!" wrote Bredric Berry, a University of North Texas student who promoted a march on Twitter.

UTA and UNT students organized justice rallies using the word hoodie and hashtags, which use the pound sign to signify a popular subject on Twitter. By Friday morning, the UTA NAACP cemented plans for the Justice for Trayvon Hoodie March on Monday. Some students from Texas Christian University were promising to attend.

UNT students' efforts for a march were a trending topic on Twitter on Thursday. The students, who are friends but not part of an organized college group, are planning the march for April 1. Participants will march from the University Union to the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center in Denton. The event is not affiliated with a UNT group or the university.

Paul Quinn College in Dallas held a rally Friday.

Hoodie symbol

Students and civil-rights groups are mobilizing because of the slaying of Martin, 17, on Feb. 26. Martin was returning from a convenience store when George Zimmerman, 28, followed him and told police dispatchers that he looked suspicious, according to news reports. Zimmerman told police that Martin attacked him, so he shot him in self-defense. Zimmerman has not been arrested.

"We have been watching the news very closely and we see the impact it is having on the community," said Dontae Robison, president of the UTA NAACP. "We feel like his life was taken."

The hooded sweatshirt has become a symbol for civil-rights activists questioning the handling of this case because Martin was wearing one when he was shot, according to reports.

UTA students ask participants in Monday's rally to wear black hoodies or black T-shirts. Pictures of rally participants wearing hoodies will be used in a collage. UNT students are also telling participants to wear hoodies.

Robison said the hoodie is popular among young people of all walks of life and is common in urban or lower-income communities. Martin's case illustrates how society needs to be reminded that stereotypes can lead to costly mistakes, Robison said.

"People are putting on hoodies and saying, 'It's just a hoodie,'" said Robison, adding that people shouldn't be mistrusted because of their clothes.

"It could have been you, it could have been your brother, it could have been your little sister, your mother, your father," he said. "It could have been anyone."

Twitter movement

Robison said organizers want to attract lawmakers to the Monday rally. They also want to draw students from other colleges -- an effort that has been possible with social media. Students said the power of social networking was on display as Texas students weighed in on the controversy.

UNT students Berry, Troy Elliott and Forest Turner Jr. sparked a Twitter movement after deciding to plan a march. Berry posted it on Twitter at about 11 a.m. Thursday and by 1 p.m. the topic was trending in Dallas-Fort Worth. Students called for petitions to be signed. Others promised to march. Elliott and Berry worked to secure permission for the march as comments were posted.

"I feel like it's a great thing," said Berry, a junior. "A lot of people say a lot of negative things about our generation, but this goes to show that we do care and are aware and we are working to see change in our communities."

Elliott, a UNT freshman, said the Martin case reminds him of how the 1950s Emmett Till case -- in which an African-American youth was murdered in the South -- mobilized people to fight injustice. It's a reminder that his generation needs to understand laws and have a voice.

"If we allow something like that to happen in Florida without doing anything here, then we are saying it is OK for something like this to happen in Denton," Elliott said.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianestar