Trayvon’s mom to Michael Brown’s: ‘Neither of their lives shall be in vain’

In the days since Michael Brown was shot and killed, protests have filled the streets in Ferguson.

But beyond the signs, marchers and tear gas, there’s the pain and grief of a family. It’s a pain Sybrina Fulton can relate to.

“I wish I had a word of automatic comfort, but I don’t,” she writes in an open letter to Brown’s parents.

Fulton has been there. She, too, lost a son in a shooting death that also triggered protests and outrage.

Her son was Trayvon Martin.

“I hate that you and your family must join this exclusive yet growing group of parents and relatives who have lost loved ones to senseless gun violence” she writes in the letter published in Time magazine. “But Michael is much more than a police/gun violence case; Michael is your son.”

Two and a half years ago on Feburary 27, 2012, Fulton’s son was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watch captain. The case quickly drew national attention as weeks went by without formal charges.

President Barrack Obama publicly addressed the case, much like he has in the Brown shooting.

And as we’ve seen with the Brown shooting, protests in support of Trayvon and his family went nationwide.

Zimmerman was charged on April 11, 1012. Then in July of 2013, he was found not guilty of second degree murder.

In the Brown shooting, a grand jury may begin to hear testimony as early as Wednesday and decide on whether to return an indictment against the police officer who killed him, Darren Wilson.

Claims of character assassination

Meanwhile, key questions in the case remain unanswered and a debate over what we do know plays out in public.

Police have released video of Brown taking part in an alleged convenience store robbery, and a purported friend of the Wilson called into a local radio station claiming that Brown attacked the officer and disobeyed an order to freeze. It’s an account that a source with detailed knowledge of the investigation later told CNN matches what Wilson himself has told investigators.

However, both the video and the account of events contrast sharply with what witnesses and family members have said about the incident and Brown’s character.

Perhaps in reference to this public debate, Fulton writes the Browns will “hear character assassinations about Michael which I am certain you already have.”

She adds, “This will incense and insult you. All of this will happen before and continue long after you have had the chance to lay your son to rest.”

“Honor your son and his life, not the circumstances of his alleged transgression,” Fulton writes. “I have always said that Trayvon was not perfect. But no one will ever convince me that my son deserved to be stalked and murdered. No one can convince you that Michael deserved to be executed.”

Fulton pledges that “neither of their lives shall be in vain” and ends her letter with a fiery call to action. “If they refuse to hear us, we will make them feel us.”

“Some will mistake that last statement as being negatively provocative. But feeling us means feeling our pain; imagining our plight as parents of slain children. We will no longer be ignored.”


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White House addresses college rape

— The Obama administration has taken another step in its effort to combat rape on college campuses with the release of a new report.

The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault produced the 20-page report. The task force, including Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, spent the last three months talking to “thousands of people” and compiled a number of very specific recommendations:

More data: The task force wants to know more about the scope and scale of the problem. The report cites a statistic from the National Institute of Justice that one in five women experience rape or attempted rape in college but say the group needs to know more.

This year, the task force is pushing schools to use its tool kit in 2015 to survey their campuses. By 2016, the task force will be reporting. The report said “we will explore legislative or administrative options to require the schools to conduct a survey.”

Survivors need more: In 2011, the administration first alerted schools about their responsibilities to survivors of sexual violence. The administration said that under Title IX schools had to address sexual violence in order to provide equal access to education. But schools have struggled with that. In the past three years many have been publicly cited for failing to live up to these standards.

Most recently, the Department of Education announced that Tufts University “failed to comply with Title IX” in the way it handles sexual assaults. The school wrote it was “surprised and disappointed” with the finding, adding it was “deeply committed to the safety and well-being of our students.”

So now the administration is getting more specific. The importance of having confidential advocates is now emphasized. This point clarifies what had been confusing for many, namely that not everyone on college campuses has a duty to report.

“In recent years, some schools have directed nearly all their employees … to report all the details of an incident to school officials,” the report said, “which can mean a survivor quickly loses control over what happens next.” That’s a critical issue for many advocates who emphasize the importance of returning control to survivors.

The administration calls for further training for those who deal with sexual violence on college campuses.

“Insensitive or judgmental comments — or questions that focus on a victim’s behavior (e.g., what she was wearing, her prior sexual history) rather than on the alleged perpetrator’s — can compound a victim’s distress,” the report notes.

On the enforcement side, the report calls for new models for investigating and adjudicating cases on campus and for a pilot program aimed at rehabilitating offenders.

Tuesday, the White House unveiled a new public service announcement encouraging men to help women who are in danger of being sexually assaulted. The PSA features several Hollywood stars, including Steve Carell and Seth Meyers and will air in movie theaters beginning in May.

Transparency: One of the biggest problems with sexual violence on college campuses is that no college wants to admit it has a problem. Parents don’t want to send their children to a school where data shows more sexual crimes occur, that could ding rankings and potentially cause problems with donors.

Paradoxically, advocates say, those schools that have high numbers may actually be taking the problem seriously. That’s because they have robust systems in place that allow for students to file complaints. Now the government wants to centralize all that data on

Accountability: It won’t just be numbers on The administration will also put forms online making it easier for students to complain if their school fails to live up to the other obligations. Many of the Department of Justice and Department of Education investigations over the years have resulted from student complaints.

So what does this all mean? According to Know Your IX, an organization that seeks to educate college students about Title IX rights, it’s a good step, but more is needed.

“These changes will mean little until Title IX enforcement is finally given teeth,” the organization said. Know Your IX said the administration is reluctant to use the best leverage it currently has, namely pulling a school’s federal funding.

“The agency has never once sanctioned a school for sexual violence-related violations of Title IX,” the organization said.

CNN’s Joe Johns contributed to this report


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