A week after the Sanford, Florida jury issued its verdict declaring George Zimmerman not guilty for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year old walking home in the rain at 7 pm holding Skittles and iced tea, hundreds turned out in scorching heat at One Police Plaza in New York City to call for justice and launch a national campaign to overturn Stand Your Ground laws and address the racial profiling and criminalization of young blacks.
The rally featured an impassioned plea by Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, with her son Jahvaris Fulton by her side, as she called for a peaceful process and a strategic campaign to address injustice and systemic inequality.
Fulton is being called the matron of a new – or rather rekindled – movement to address the injustice in the justice system, and the immorality of the legal system. “A woman who has personified dignity, who has said that she wants to make sure that what happened to Trayvon doesn’t happen to anyone else’s child.”
Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year old, was walking home in the rain at 7 pm holding Skittles and iced tea, to watch the All Star Game with his younger brother.
She reflected how uncomfortable it was in the courtroom, “like they were talking about another man. This was a child. He had a drink and candy.
“Not only do I vow to you to do what I can for Tray, I will work hard for your children, as well.”
Then, she called for peace and restraint.
“I want your voices heard, but it must be in a peaceful manner. No one is hurting more than me and our family.”
She urged that they follow leaders and lawyers “who can lead you properly so we can change these laws.”
“We will be guided by legal strategy,” Reverend Al Sharpton said. “Fight, not fit. If you are here to vent, you are at the wrong rally….. Trayvon cannot rest in peace unless we are all peaceful.”
This was more than a rally. Fifty years after the March on Washington, it was the launch of a new movement.
“We disagree on the verdict. We are Americans, and have the right to disagree.
“Sybrina’s boy was just walking home to watch the All Star Game when for no reason, a neighborhood watch pulled a 9 mm gun and decided he was up to no good…. Trayvon’s killer started the fight and ended the fight. the 911 tape showed that Trayvon was running away. He went to his grave not knowing who this creepy man was who followed him.
“We need to know what to tell our children,” he said. “Don’t our children have a right to walk home in peace? “Sybrina Fulton has said ‘Trayvon is not just my son. He’s your son, our son.”
Sharpton said that the Department of Justice has to have a role. “Trayvon’s killer needs to be held accountable for violating his civil rights.”
He also called for a Trayvon Martin amendment to Stand Your Ground laws. “It is so commonsensical: you should not have the right to be the initial aggressor, to pick the fight, and then claim Stand Your Ground self-defense.”
And Sharpton pointed to the arbitrary – or selective – way that Stand Your Ground is allowed as a defense, pointing to the case of Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville, who had to fend off an abusive ex-husband who had previously beaten her, invaded her home; she fired a warning shot that did not hit anyone, but was sent to prison for 20 years.
“Think about that sister in prison for firing a warning shot, and Trayvon’s killer being exonerated.”
Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared that he sees no need to change the law.
The leaders of the rally were clear that this is not a single event, a response, but the beginning of an ongoing movement.
“Today is not just about being angry, but mobilizing, organizing or else we will just repeat the same cycle of injustice,” one said.
“We are not coming together to publicly vent frustration, but to let the Justice Department know we want civil litigation.
“We are not just coming together after an injustice – that is reactive…..We are weary of seeing our young men criminalized for walking down the street.”
And they made it clear that the problem was not confined to Sanford, or to Florida, but the 22 other states that have adopted the model legislation written by the NRA and lobbied by ALEC. New York City also received boos for its “stop and frisk” program that targets, humiliates, and dehumanizes young men of color.
They laid out an agenda, and called for a massive protest in Washington DC on August 24, 2013, marking the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, to stand for equal justice and equality.
To deal with Stand Your Ground laws, starting with Florida – “There should not be a law where if you ‘think’ you are under threat, you can kill.”
Addressing Voting Rights – registering voters “not by party but policy. Those who will stand up for rights, we will vote for.
Pressure the Justice Department to bring suit against George Zimmerman for denying Trayvon Martin’s civil rights. “Because Trayvon Martin had a civil right to go home that day. The state’s trial talked about Zimmerman’s rights, but what about Trayvon’s rights, the right of an American teenager to go home,” Sharpton said.
He also called for support for the Trayvon Martin Foundation (trayvonmartinfoundation.org), which will help families of victims of gun violence.
“We cannot bring Trayvon back,” Sharpton said “But what we can do is make sure that if this happens to anybody’s child, that the foundation will be a resource, so you are not alone, abandoned.. We will not let this verdict define Trayvon Martin. We will define Trayvon Martin’s legacy through this foundation.”
There was also a call for a boycott of Florida – on vacationing at DisneyWorld and beaches, on buying Florida orange juice, on patronizing the businesses that support ALEC.
“Where we are not respected, we will not patronize…This is not a black issue, it is a human issue. This is about being human. Every human being has value, his life has meaning.”
“Take seriously righteousness, justice, freedom, inalienable rights
“This fight is not over. The revolution is just happening. But at the end, there will be justice and equality.
“We have to prepare the next generation of revolutionaries….The tragedy of this moment is that we’ve been here before.
“But we have also won many victories We have a legacy of being victorious. but theonly wars and battles we don’t win are the ones we don’t fight…
“The ground we stand on is just as precious. today we stand our ground. We are here for the long haul.”
“Too often what is legal is not moral,” declared Reverend Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson. Grace Baptist Church, Mount Vernon. “What is legal reinforces the status quo” he said pointing to slavery, the Dred Scott Supreme Court ruling which enshrined the requirement to return escaped slaves, and later, it was legal to deny service to blacks at the lunch counter, to keep them at the back of the bus, and to keep them out of the school house.
“They used to tell King that segregation was better than slavery. You don’t know the humiliation of being watched when you are in a department store, of being guilty until proven innocent, being judged by the color of one’s skin instead of his character, and no one said it better than the President of the United States, Barack Obama.”
President Barack Obama received praise and cheers from the crowd for talking personally in an impromptu visit to the White House press room on Friday, when he said that “35 years ago, that could have been me.”
“The President did what the lawyers couldn’t do – to tell what it was like to be Trayvon,” said one of the lawyers for the Martin family, noting that he knew the case was lost when the jury was selected, and that they could identify with Zimmerman, but not with Trayvon.
Trayvon’s presence was everywhere – looking down from the haunting photos in posters.
The rally in Lower Manhattan was one of more than 100 around the country on Saturday, July 20 including Miami, where Trayvon’s father, Tracy, addressed the crowd; Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago, Baton Rouge, New Haven to list but a few.
New York’s rally was attended by Beyonce and Jay-Z who came in quietly, stood to the side to give support to the Martin family, and did not speak to the crowd so not to distract from the message.
Other notables on hand: Geraldo Rivera who made controversial remarks about Trayvon Martin, mayoral candidates Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson, and Congressman Gregory W. Meeks.
Police stayed at a distance.
People left the rally peaceably, and many took their message over the Brooklyn Bridge, with an escort of police.
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
© 2013 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.