Protesters rally across US over Trayvon Martin verdict
Protesters gathered in over 100 US cities on Saturday to press for federal charges against George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of the death of an unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, and to call for changes to self-defense laws.
Protesters rallied in cities from Los Angeles to New York to urge federal citizenship lawsuits against the former neighborhood guard leader, who was acquitted in the death of the unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, and to call for changes to the country’s self-defense laws.
The Florida case has become a focal point in separate but converging national debates on self-defense, guns, and racial relations. George Zimmerman, who successfully claimed to be protecting himself when he shot Martin, identified himself as Hispanic. Martin was black.
The National Action Network, headed by Rev. Al Sharpton, a prominent civil rights activist, organized Justice for Trayvon rallies and vigils in front of federal buildings in at least 101 cities on Saturday. In Atlanta, where people stood on the bases of two federal buildings in the rain and traffic was blocked on the surrounding downtown streets.
Chants rang out over the rallies. “Justice! Justice! Justice! … Now! Now! Now!” “We will not forget.” ” No justice! No peace! “Many also sang songs, prayed and held hands.
And many participants wore signs: “Who’s next?” “I’m Trayvon Martin.” “Enough is enough.”
“It’s personal,” said Chris Donegan of Cincinnati, whose 11-year-old son at the rally wore a black hoodie that Martin was wearing when he was fatally shot. “Anyone who is black with children, Trayvon Martin became our son.”
Zimmerman discovered Martin one night in February 2012 when a teenage boy was returning from a supermarket in a Florida gated community. Believing Martin was behaving suspiciously, the guard from the neighborhood called the police and pursued the youth alone, armed with a pistol. He shot and killed 17-year-old Martin during an altercation.
Most rallies started around noon. Hundreds of people gathered in New York – including music superstars Jay-Z and Beyonce, and Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton – in the heat.
Fulton told the crowd she was determined to fight for the social and legal changes needed to ensure that black teens are no longer viewed with suspicion because of the color of their skin.
“I promise I will work for your children too,” she said to the crowd.
During a morning appearance at Sharpton headquarters in Harlem, she begged people to understand that the tragedy involved more than just Martin. “Today it was my son. Tomorrow it could be yours, ”she said.
Sharpton not only called on the Justice Department to investigate Zimmerman’s federal civil rights violation charges, but also told his supporters that he wanted the self-defense laws to be withdrawn.
“We’re trying to change laws so this never happens again,” said Sharpton.
Stand-your-ground laws are on the books in more than 20 states, going beyond many older, traditional self-defense laws. In general, the law removes a person’s obligation to withdraw for fear of death or personal injury.
Relying on a traditional self-defense argument, Zimmerman claimed he shot Martin after the teenager hit him.
He did not invoke stand-your-ground, although the judge included a provision about it in the instructions that would allow the jury to consider it a legitimate defense. And race was not discussed in front of the jury. But the two issues dominated public discourse on the case and came up during Saturday’s rallies.
Some of Sharpton’s comments echoed those made by President Barack Obama on Friday. “Racial profiling isn’t as bad as segregation, but you don’t know the humiliation of being followed in a department store,” Sharpton said.
Obama urged the nation to look into Martin’s death and the acquittal of his shooter, saying the black teenager killed “could have been I 35 years ago”. Understanding the pain of many black Americans, Obama said the case conjured up a tough history of racial injustice that “won’t go away”.
In Indianapolis, Rev. Jeffrey Johnson told about 200 participants that the nationwide effort is about making the lives of young black men safer. He compared Zimmerman’s acquittal to that of four white Los Angeles police officers flogging black driver Rodney King in 1992.
“The verdict freed George Zimmerman, but condemned America even more,” said Johnson, pastor of Indianapolis’ Eastern Star Church and board member of the National Action Network.
In Miami, Tracy Martin spoke about his son.
“It could be one of our children,” he said. “Our mission now is to make sure that this does not happen to your child.”
He remembered swearing Trayvon, lying in his coffin, to seek justice.
“I’ll keep fighting for Trayvon until I die,” he said.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that his division would investigate whether Zimmerman could be indicted under federal civil rights laws. Such a case would require evidence that Zimmerman harbored racial hostility towards Martin. Most legal experts say that would be a difficult indictment. Zimmerman’s attorneys said her client was not racially driven but by a desire to protect his neighborhood after a spate of break-ins.
Holder said the shooting demonstrated the need to review stand-your-ground laws.