Hundreds gathered outside the District’s federal courthouse Saturday under an oppressive afternoon sun in a growing movement demanding the Justice Department file civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, acquitted last week in Florida in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
The “Justice for Trayvon” rally at the front of the U.S. District Court for the District was one of dozens of demonstrations organized across the country by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.
“The purpose of being here today is to make sure the Trayvon Martin case is not a moment but a movement,” Joe Madison, a radio talk show host, said to those gathered in the District. “We have felt pain. Pain leads to passion, but your passion must lead to a purpose.”
During the nearly two-hour rally, attendees listened to a series of speakers who encouraged political and civic action through voting, participation in future marches or boycotts of Florida products. Some attendees, particularly young black men, donned hooded sweatshirts what Trayvon wore when he was killed despite the 90-plus degree heat. Others waved homemade signs or wore T-shirts with Trayvon’s picture.
Many who attended the rally brought their own children, hoping to engage them in social action.
“It’s got to start with the babies,” said 30-year-old Army veteran Que James, who brought her 1-year-old son and 4-year-old nephew to the rally. “I told them the struggle starts right here.”
Each of the boys clutched a white poster board, with slogans about justice that Ms. James had neatly printed for them.
“I wanted to come out because I feel like if I can go overseas and fight for my country I could stand here and fight for what I believe in,” Ms. Jones, of Oxon Hill, said.”I feel like there’s one law and two or three interpretations of it depending on who you are.”
Others saw the potential for their own loved ones to have fallen victim in a similar situation.
“It could have been my grandson. I took it to heart,” said Foriesia Cook, a 57-year-old federal government employee from Landover who was accompanied at the rally by her daughter and two grandchildren.
When asked why he wanted to come to the rally, Ms. Cook’s grandson, 11-year-old Demetrius Kosh said he thought it was unfair that Mr. Zimmerman didn’t go to jail.
“It’s bad that he got released,” Demetrius said.
A Florida jury on July 13 acquitted Mr. Zimmerman, a 29-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer of all charges in the February 2012 shooting death of Martin, who was unarmed. The case has ignited debate around both self-defense and gun laws as well as race relations. Prosecutors in the case said Mr. Zimmerman, who has white and Hispanic parents, targeted and pursued the black teenager through his neighborhood believing he was a criminal. Defense lawyers argued that Mr. Zimmerman acted in self-defense when he shot Martin.
At a similar rally in Miami, Tracy Martin spoke about his son.
“This could be any one of our children,” he said. “Our mission now is to make sure that this doesn’t happen to your child.”
He recalled how he vowed to his son as he lay in his casket that he would seek justice.