At the lakeside park, hundreds of rally-goers streamed in Thursday as the humid evening buzzed with electricity and anticipation.
Television news helicopters droned over a domino-line of satellite trucks. Spontaneously, pockets of people erupted into chants demanding justice for slain teenager Trayvon Martin.
The few police officers visible carried badges not of the Sanford Police Department but of the Seminole County Sheriffs Office and the Florida Highway Patrol. But the crowd, boisterous and spirited, didnt need policing.
A familiar Miami face, the Rev. Richard Dunn, strolled up the rolling lawn just yards from Lake Monroe. He drove up to the Orlando suburb Thursday with several supporters.
Its a blessing to see the multi-ethnic people here in support of good, he said. Lets be clear: This is blatant murder. The color of the skin does nor matter. What is right is what matters.
As the sky turned orange at Fort Mellon Park, just down the way from the historic brick-lined streets of downtown Sanford, the casual observer could cover his ears, look at the signs and quickly printed T-shirts, and know what brought Dunn here.
One sign, scrawled in marker: Pray, protest, but get armed! Chief, you are a temporary joke! read another, poking fun at Sanford Police Chief Brian Lee, who temporarily stepped down because of the outcry over his departments handling of Trayvons shooting.
Dozens of T-shirts showed Trayvons photo next to that of Emmett Till, the black Alabama teen slain in 1955 after he flirted with a white girl.
Shirts and poster boards showed the black-and-white booking mugs of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, 28, the man who fatally shot Trayvon last month. He claimed self-defense, and has not been arrested.
Americas Most Wanted
Arrest and indict this SOB now!
Yolanda Upson, 47, an Orlando teacher, raised a sign that showed Zimmermans photo and the word Murderer.
This is great news, Upson said when she was told the local state attorney had stepped down from the case. He wasnt doing nothing. He wasnt doing his job, and he needed to be knocked out and someone else put in.
The case would now be overseen by a Jacksonville prosecutor, announced Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Trayvons family. Raucous applause, and then, finally, the most fiery orator of the night stepped onto a stage set up by citys parks department.
By then, the crowd had swelled to well over 1,000.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, national activist and onetime presidential candidate, took the microphone with a heavy heart, flanked by Trayvons parents. At 2 a.m., Sharpton told the crowd, his sister called to tell him that their ailing mother had died. He traveled to Sanford anyway.
My mother would have been ashamed if I hadnt have shown up to fight for this man and woman, Sharpton hollered as the whipped-up crowd hollered back.
Sharpton minced no words.
We want permanent justice! he shouted. We want Zimmerman in court with his hands cuffed behind his back!