Attending a rally to protest the killing of Trayvon Martin, Vikki Hankins shows how this case made her remember the tragic shooting death of her younger brother in 1991. (Photo by Garry Jones).
Vikki Hankins was watching television when she heard that haunting voice in the background, which literally grabbed at her.
Since then, she’s joined thousands of others who have attended rallies in Sanford to protest the way the local police department has handled the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
“It took me a minute to determine whether I wanted to get involved,” she said. “I was looking at television like everyone else, and by the second or the third day, I heard it. When I listened to the media play that 911 tape, I heard someone pleading for help in the background. When I heard the cry for help in the background, at that point I remember telling a friend I was making a determination that I wanted to get involved. Hearing that plea for help compelled me to get involved.”
Attending those rallies in Sanford, she said, has been a very powerful experience, because it was about so much more than protesting the senseless killing of a teenage boy armed only with a bad of Skittles and an iced tea, and about so much more than the failure of the Sanford Police Department to make an arrest in this shooting death.
Looking around at the people who had attended the rallies, Hankins said, made her realize just how many others are out there who also feel like they have a Trayvon Martin in their family, a teenage boy whose own life could be in danger for one simple reason: being black, he conjures up negative stereotypes in the minds of some white people who feel threatened by seeing him in their neighborhood.
“They were there to be in support of Trayvon Martin’s family,” she said. “Looking around, when I saw a lot of the young boys, three years old and five years old. I felt there were people out there who have lost sons through a tragedy like murder. For the future of their children, they did not want their sons ending up like Trayvon Martin. They were saying ‘We have to change this and get people to see they don’t have to be so afraid of us, the young African American males, and to feel they have to kill us.’ ”
The case hit home for Hankins for another reason. Listening to that 911 tape and hearing what sounded like a teenage boy screaming for his life in the final seconds before a fatal shooting, it sent Hankins on a searing emotional roller coaster ride. It was exactly a decade ago when another young African American man was in the exact same situation, a 20-year-old high school graduate named Mark Anthony Pugh. Hankins remembers finding out about his death, and how agonizing that moment was.
Mark Anthony Pugh was her younger brother.
Mark Anthony Pugh was just 20 years old when he graduated high school ... and later was shot to death by another young man.
Listening to the 911 tape from the Trayvon Martin case, she said, brought back terrible memories of her own brother’s senseless murder. Although Hankins wasn’t at the scene on the day he was shot to death, she’s often haunted by thoughts of what his final terrifying moments were like.
“Somehow I related that to the possibility of my brother needing help,” she said. “That moved me to get involved, this boy pleading for someone to help him, and then his life is lost as a result – unthinkable.”
Mark Anthony Pugh had just graduated from high school, and was looking forward to attending Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach that fall, when an incident at a party thrust the entire family into tragedy.
“He graduated from high school and was en route to college,” Hankins said. “On the day of his murder, from what I was told, it was about a girl.”
It was not, she said, an interracial incident, as in the Trayvon Martin shooting. The man who shot Martin, George Zimmerman, is a mix of white and Hispanic.
“This was a black-on-black crime, unlike Zimmerman and Trayvon,” Hankins said. “The person who killed my brother was a black guy. There was an incident that occurred at a party where my brother and the girl he was dating broke up, and I guess they got into an argument, and the girl spit in my brother’s face and my brother smacked her. The brother of that girl was upset about that, and that was the reason why this guy actually killed my brother. He got upset and went home, got a gun, then pulled the trigger, shot my brother in the temple, and he was brain dead.”
Although her brother’s killer was apprehended, prosecuted and convicted, that wasn’t the end of the story, Hankins said.
“When my brother was murdered, the person who murdered him was out of prison within two years, after killing a twenty year old, full of potential,” Hankins said. “What that says to me is that to law enforcement and a great number of people in our society, the value of an African American male or the African American people still is not where it should be. Had it been my brother killing a white boy over in Crescent City, he would still be in prison to this day. Had that boy that killed my brother killed a white boy, that boy wouldn’t have been out of prison within two years.”
Human life, she said, can’t be evaluated based on race.
“What that says is when the person who is dead is white and the shooter on the other end is a black person, that person will be buried under the prison system,” Hankins said. “But in my brother’s case, the investigators and law enforcement did not give a damn about my brother’s life, it’s as simple as that.”
And today, Hankins feels the same sense of outrage and frustration with law enforcement’s handling of Trayvon Martin’s death.
“Someone was murdered, and basically the justice system didn’t care,” she said.
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