Demonstrators rallied in about 100 U.S. cities Saturday, chanting, singing, sign-waving, and demanding justice in the shooting death of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin.
The coast-to-coast rallies — in which protesters called for a federal civil rights investigation and a repeal of Florida-style Stand Your Ground self-defense laws — came exactly one week after a jury acquitted shooter George Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter.
The verdict prompted such a nationwide discussion of race, crime and justice that President Barack Obama unexpectedly held a White House briefing a day before the rallies to share deeply personal thoughts on what it means to be black in America.
But Trayvon’s dad had a far simpler message Saturday in downtown Miami.
“I’d like the world to know that Trayvon was my son. He was a loved child. He did nothing wrong,” Tracy Martin said to the crowd of about 500 at the federal courthouse on North Miami Avenue.
“I promised Trayvon, when he was laying in his casket, that I would use every ounce of energy in my body to seek justice for him,” he said. “I will continue to fight for Trayvon until the day I die.”
“Not only will I fight for Trayvon, I’ll be fighting for your child as well,” he said. “One of our deepest missions is to make sure that we advocate against senseless violence. Senseless violence is just a disease. And we as a people have the cure. We just have to come together.”
But there were isolated signs of divisiveness, with two demonstrators wearing shirts that said “Creepy Ass Cracker” — a racially charged phrase that Trayvon used when Zimmerman initially pursued him through a Sanford apartment complex on the rainy evening of Feb. 26, 2012, when he was killed.
Far more people at the rallies wore less inflammatory clothing, which bore likenesses of Obama, Martin Luther King Jr. or that said “Justice for Trayvon” — the name of the rally.
The rallies were organized by National Action Network, an organization founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, a New York activist and MSNBC host.
At the organization’s home city in New York, hundreds — including music superstars Jay-Z and Beyoncé — gathered to hear Sharpton and Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton.
“Today it was my son. Tomorrow it might be yours,” she said.
Like her ex-husband in Miami, Fulton did not speak at length or in depth about race.
In contrast, in Miami, Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson followed Trayvon’s father with an address that heavily dwelled on race.
Wilson reminded the crowd that Sanford was the place where baseball star Jackie Robinson was spat on and had urine thrown on him during spring training in the 1940s.
“Sanford has a history of racist tactics,” she said, calling Zimmerman a murderer.
Wilson also mentioned “driving while black,” and condemned “the racist laws in the criminal justice system.”
Wilson didn’t specifically address the 2005 Stand Your Ground self-defense law when she was in the state Senate. Wilson and every Democrat joined the Republicans to vote for it in the Senate, a vote Wilson has since said she regretted.