The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network organized the "Justice for Trayvon" rallies and vigils Saturday 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.
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, Sharpton told supporters he wants to see a rollback of stand-your-ground self-defense laws. He also wants the Justice Department to investigate civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, who was acquitted by a Florida jury on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.
“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.
In Washington, D.C., a few hundred people gathered outside the federal courthouse to express their displeasure with the verdict. They wore T-shirts depicting the youth and clutched packets of Skittles — the snack carried by Martin when he was shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February 2012.
“I support the rule of law,” said Lennox Abrigo, D.C. chapter president of Sharpton’s National Action Network. “But I disagree with every cell of my body with that verdict.”
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.
At the New Orleans rally, La’Monte Johnson shared some of the same experiences.
The California native said he’s been stopped multiple times by police and handcuffed "because I fit the description of someone they were looking for," though he noted charges were never filed against him.
"You can be the greatest black guy around, but you can’t get away from it," he said. "You’re not equal."
The Associated Press and The Washington Post contributed to this report.