Macon Trayvon Martin rally part of nationwide events

Associated PressJuly 20, 2013 

The Bootle Federal Courthouse was the site of the Macon Trayvon Martin rally Saturday.
GRANT BLANKENSHIP/THE TELEGRAPH--gblankenship@macon.com

One week after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, people gathered for nationwide rallies to press for changes to self-defense laws and for federal civil rights charges against the former neighborhood watch leader.The Florida case has become a flash point in separate but converging national debates over self-defense, guns, and race relations.

About 150 people attended the rally at the federal courthouse in Macon. Many held yellow signs that read “Together we stand united” and “No justice, no peace.”

They prayed and sang. Several speakers expressed outrage over the verdict, including Macon City Councilmen Henry Ficklin and Louis Frank Tompkins.

Ronecia Curtis, a college student who helped organize the rally, said for her it wasn’t just about the Zimmerman verdict but a stand against violence in general.

“I feel like we should all stand together and stop violence,” she said. “It’s about the community, and it’s great to have everyone coming out like this.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network organized the “Justice for Trayvon” rallies and vigils outside federal buildings in at least 101 cities: from New York and Los Angeles to Wichita, Kan., and Atlanta, where people stood in the rain at the base of the federal courthouse, with traffic blocked on surrounding downtown streets.

“It’s personal,” said Cincinnati resident Chris Donegan, whose 11-year-old son wore a black hoodie to the rally, as Martin did when he died. “Anybody who is black with kids, Trayvon Martin became our son.”

Chants rang out across the rallies. “Justice! Justice! Justice! ... Now! Now! Now!” “We won’t forget.” “No justice! No peace!” Many also sang hymns, prayed and held hands.

And plenty of participants carried signs: “Who’s next?” “I am Trayvon Martin.” “Enough Is Enough.”Most rallies began at noontime. In New York, hundreds of people including music superstars Jay-Z and Beyonce, as well as Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton gathered in the heat.

Fulton told the crowd she was determined to fight for societal and legal changes needed to ensure that black youths are no longer viewed with suspicion because of their skin color.

“I promise you I’m going to work for your children as well,” she said to the rally crowd.

At a morning appearance at Sharpton’s headquarters in Harlem, she implored people to understand that the tragedy involved more than Martin alone. “Today it was my son. Tomorrow it might be yours,” she said.

In addition to pushing the Justice Department to investigate civil rights charges against Zimmerman, Sharpton told supporters he wants to see a rollback of stand-your-ground self-defense laws.

“We are trying to change laws so that this never, ever happens again,” Sharpton said.

Stand-your-ground laws are on the books in more than 20 states, and they go beyond many older, traditional self-defense statutes. In general, the laws eliminate a person’s duty to retreat in the face of a serious physical threat.

Zimmerman relied on a traditional self-defense argument and didn’t invoke stand-your-ground, though the judge included a provision about it in instructions allowing jurors to consider it as a legitimate defense. And race wasn’t discussed in front of the jury.

But the two topics have dominated public discourse about the case, and came up throughout Saturday’s rallies.

Part of Sharpton’s comments echoed those made by President Barack Obama on the case Friday. “Racial profiling is not as bad as segregation, but you don’t know the humiliation of being followed in a department store,” Sharpton said.

In Indianapolis, the Rev. Jeffrey Johnson told about 200 attendees that the nationwide effort is about making life safer for young black men. Johnson said young black men still are endangered by racial profiling, and he compared Zimmerman’s acquittal to that of four white officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King in 1992.

“The verdict freed George Zimmerman, but it condemned America more,” said Johnson, pastor of the Eastern Star Church in Indianapolis and a member of the board of directors of the National Action Network.

In Miami, Tracy Martin spoke about his son.

“This could be any one of our children,” he said. “Our mission now is to make sure that this doesn’t happen to your child.”He recalled how he vowed to Trayvon as he lay in his casket that he would seek justice.

“I will continue to fight for Trayvon until the day I die,” he said.Shantescia Hill held a sign in Miami that read: “Every person deserves a safe walk home.”

The 31-year-old mother, who is black, said, “I’m here because our children can’t even walk on the streets without fearing for their lives.”

In his remarks Friday, Obama said it’s a reality for black men in American to “be followed in a department store” while shopping or to walk down the street and “hear the car doors lock.” The nation’s first black president said he had both experiences before he rose to social and political prominence.

Telegraph writer Wayne Crenshaw and Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik, Christine Armario, Stacey Plaisance, Amanda Lee Myers and Charles Wilson contributed to this report.

 

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