ATLANTA – One week after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, people gathered nationwide Saturday to press for federal civil rights charges against the former neighborhood watch leader and to call for changes in the nation’s self-defense laws.
The Florida case has become a flashpoint in separate but converging national debates on self-defense, guns and race relations. Zimmerman, who successfully claimed that he was protecting himself when he shot Martin, identifies as Hispanic. Martin was black.
For some attendees, particularly those who are black, the rallies seemed as much about those larger issues as about the verdict.
“It’s personal,” said Cincinnati resident Chris Donegan, whose 11-year-old son wore a hoodie to the rally, as Martin did the night he died. “Anybody who is black with kids, Trayvon Martin became our son.”
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 bases of two federal buildings, with traffic blocked on surrounding downtown streets.
Most rallies began at noon. In New York, hundreds of people – including Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and music superstars Jay Z and Beyonce – 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 told the crowd.