Thousands of Americans Saturday gathered at more than 100 cities around the nation to demand justice for Trayvon Martin who was shot dead in Florida last year. George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic who killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teen, was cleared of all charges last week.
The decision by the six jurors has reverberated inside prayer houses, gathering places, and out on the streets.
On Saturday, it echoed in street demonstrations across the country as protesters spilled out of their homes to voice their outrage and demand justice for Trayvon.
Experts say the verdict has further polarized the nation. Fierce debate has ensued about race, crime, and the American justice system in the aftermath of the not guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial.
In Miami, Trayvon’s father Tracy Martin, joined the crowds protesting the verdict and demanding justice for his 17-year-old son.
“It’s overwhelming,” Tracy Martin told reporters. “It sends a message to the nation that we’re not going to sit back and let our children be killed and don’t say anything about it.”
Watching the crowds as they chanted, “no peace, no justice,” Tracy Martin said, “This is what keeps us going, all of these people that are out here to support us, white, black, brown. There’s a mixture of people. Everybody is out to support not only Trayvon, but their children as well.”
Crowds in various cities also took aim at the “stand-your-ground law” which is used in more than a dozen states in the nation. This law allows people to use deadly force if they feel threatened.
Zimmerman’s lawyers had initially considered using the controversial law in his defense, but later elected a more traditional self-defense argument.
President Barack Obama Friday also questioned the wisdom of the controversial law, suggesting that people should think whether Trayvon also had similar right to stand his ground.
“Do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?”
The Rev. Al Sharpton in New York also attacked the law.
“We are trying to change laws so that this never, ever happens again,” Sharpton told the gathering in New York. Reports say Sharpton organized the rallies through his National Action Network. Sharpton also told the crowds that the vigils will be followed by a conference next week in Miami to formulate a plan to address Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, attended “Justice for Trayvon” rally in New York. Addressing the crowd in New York City, she said, “Today it was my son. Tomorrow it might be yours.”
Reports say most of the rallies and vigils were taking place outside federal court buildings.
In Washington, D.C., hundreds of people carried signs that said “Justice for Trayvon Martin” as they marched through the sweltering heat of the city. Hellen Smith, attending the rally said she had mixed emotions about the jury’s finding. She said jurors may not have had enough evidence to convict. However, she added “We have to stand up for any person of any race who has been unjustly murdered.”
Terri White, another participant at the Washington rally echoed her disappointment at the Zimmerman verdict. “I have two African-Americans sons and grandsons and I want to see things change for them.”
Ralph Reynaud, also taking part in the city’s rally of ‘justice for Trayvon’ demand that is echoing around the nation, said the verdict shows that many people connect more easily with Zimmerman than with a black teen. “There was no justice,” Reynaud said. “The letter if the law was executed, but the spirit of it was invalidated.”
In the meantime, Trayvon’s parents, in a statement, thanked Mr. Obama for his reflections on why the verdict has disappointed so many people, especially in the African-American community.
“We are deeply honored and moved that President Obama took the time to speak publicly and at length about our son, Trayvon. The President’s comments give us great strength at this time.”
By Perviz Walji
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