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.
"I will continue to fight for Trayvon until the day I die," he said.
In New York City, Martin's mother said 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," Sybrina Fulton told a crowd that included music superstars Jay-Z and Beyonce.
Mr. Sharpton told supporters he wants to see a rollback of stand-your-ground self-defense laws.
"We are trying to change laws so that this never, ever happens again," he said.
The Justice Department says it is investigating the case — an inquiry welcomed by Ms. Fulton and civil rights leaders.
On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. vowed to take a "hard look" at a new generation of "stand your ground" self-defense laws enacted in Florida and nearly two dozen other states.
Meanwhile on Friday, President Obama spoke at length about his own personal experiences with racism, saying it would be "useful" to review "stand your ground" laws and to renew efforts aimed at boosting the self-esteem of black boys.
Speakers at the District rally noted that "stand your ground" laws have been adopted at the local level and encouraged those who do not support such legislation to get involved politically in local elections.
"We cannot have another Trayvon Martin," Janaye Ingram, D.C. bureau chief for the National Action Network, said.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports
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