ATLANTA (AP) — Crowds chanted “Justice! Justice!” as people rallied in dozens of U.S. cities, urging authorities to press federal civil rights charges against a former neighborhood watch leader found not guilty in the shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin.
The Rev. Al Sharpton‘s National Action Network organized the “Justice for Trayvon” rallies and vigils outside federal buildings Saturday in at least 101 cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and other locations.
One week after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the 2012 shooting death of Martin in a gated central Florida community, people gathered nationwide Saturday to press for federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman. They also called for changes in the nation’s self-defense laws.
“No justice! No peace!” some chanted. Many also sang hymns, prayed and held hands.
The Florida case has become a flashpoint in separate but converging national debates over self-defense, guns, and race relations. Zimmerman, who successfully claimed that he was protecting himself when he shot Martin, identifies himself as Hispanic. Martin was black.
In Atlanta, speakers noted that the rally there took place in the shadows of federal buildings named for two figures who had vastly differing views on civil rights and racial equality: Richard B. Russell was a Georgia governor and U.S. senator elected in the Jim Crow South; The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is the face of African-Americans’ civil rights movement.
“What’s so frightening about a black man in a hood?” said the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who now occupies the pulpit at King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, at the Atlanta rally.
In New York, hundreds of people — including Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and music superstars Jay-Z and Beyonce — gathered in the heat.
Fulton told the crowd she was determined to fight for 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,” she told the crowd.
Earlier Saturday, at Sharpton’s headquarters in Harlem, she implored people to understand that the tragedy involved more than Martin alone. “Today it was my son. Tomorrow it might be yours,” she said.
In addition to pushing the Justice Department to investigate civil rights charges against Zimmerman, Sharpton told supporters In New York that 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,” 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 newer laws eliminate a person’s duty to retreat, if possible, in the face of a serious physical threat.