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Roxbury forum focuses on Fla. killing, safety of black men

Nearly 150 mostly black and Latino residents of Roxbury and surrounding communities packed Hibernian Hall in Roxbury on Friday night to discuss the killing of Trayvon Martin and the safety of black men in the United States.

“Everyone is upset about what happened in Florida,’’ said Cornell Mills, one of the forum’s organizers. “What this case has done is ignite a conversation about race and the conditions black men face in this country.’’

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Martin was an unarmed black 17-year-old who was killed in February by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain in a gated community who is white and Hispanic. Zimmerman claimed he was acting in self-defense, and he has not been charged with a crime.

Friday’s forum featured a slide show about black men killed by police officers and white men and the injustice felt in the community surrounding the deaths.

Many in the audience cried out when the conversation turned to the deaths of black men in Boston.

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Discussing the death of Marquis Barker, who was killed by Boston police officers in 2007 after stealing a police cruiser and brandishing a pellet gun, organizers hoped to show the audience that although Martin was killed in Florida, they believe racism is persistent and evident even in Massachusetts.

“It wasn’t an isolated incident, it’s part of an epidemic,’’ said Jamarhl Crawford, one of the forum’s organizers. Police “need to treat people with respect, period. You need to not be so quick to draw, period.’’

Elaine Driscoll, spokeswoman for Boston police, declined to comment on the forum.

While the majority of the conversation was led by Crawford, founder of the Blackstonian website, members from the audience briefly spoke about their own experiences and how they think racism can be addressed.

Mawakana Onifade, a Roxbury resident, said while it is good to have everyone together talking about the issues, youths need to be the ones most involved.

“When I look around the room my concern is how do we organize the young people?’’ said Onifade. “How are we going to translate this to them?’’

Globe correspondent Amanda Cedrone contributed to this report. Patrick Rosso can be reached at patrick.d.rosso @gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PDRosso.
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