Thousands of demonstrators gathered in dozens of cities today to mourn Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager shot to death in a confrontation with a neighborhood watch volunteer early last year, and to add their voices to a debate on race that his death has set off. The gatherings began around noon EST at federal buildings across the country. They came a week after George Zimmerman was acquitted by a court in Florida of Mr. Martin’s killing; days after angry protests erupted in the wake of that verdict; and hours after President Obama said, in a heartfelt address, that “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
Mr. Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, addressing dozens of people outside the federal courthouse in Miami, said, “I vowed to Trayvon when he was laying in his casket that I would use every ounce of energy in my body to seek justice for him.
“I will continue to fight for Trayvon until the day I die,” he added. “Not only will I be fighting for Trayvon, I will be fighting for your child as well.” At a rally in New York, over cries of “We’re all Trayvon Martin,” the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the organizers of the gatherings, told a crowd of hundreds that Mr. Martin’s death should prompt a movement. Mr. Sharpton said that he wanted to ensure an aggressive federal investigation of Mr. Zimmerman and fight against Florida’s broad self-defense laws. “Last Saturday we cried,” he said, “but this Saturday we march.”
Ira Acree spent two hours passing out fliers in front of the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago, hoping to spread the word about a “Justice for Trayvon” vigil at noon Saturday — one of at least 100 planned in cities across the nation. On the way back to his car, Acree, a pastor, spotted a television in the lobby of the parking garage. A crowd had gathered in front, as if “watching the football game,” Acree said. President Obama was speaking.
In his first comments since a six-woman jury acquitted George Zimmerman of murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Obama spoke frankly and reflectively, relating his experiences with race and racial profiling. “Trayvon Martin could have been me,” the President said. Obama’s earnest words moved Acree almost to tears. “I just think that the president’s words may help whites across the nation at least understand us,” Acree said. “And be a little bit more emphathetic toward our actions tomorrow.” Acree chairs the board of a social justice group in Chicago called the Leader’s Network, which is helping organize Saturday’s vigil.
The 100-city “Justice for Trayvon” vigils, which the Rev. Al Sharpton announced Tuesday on the steps of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., will be staged mostly at federal court buildings across the country. In California, rallies are scheduled in Los Angeles, Oakland, Palmdale, Riverside, Sacramento, San Francisco and the Monterey County city of Seaside. Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and Martin’s brother, Jahvaris, will attend a rally in New York City, along with Sharpton. Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, is attending a vigil in Miami.