April 1, 2012
MIAMI — Political leaders, sport stars and entertainers were among several thousand people who gathered Sunday at a Miami rally to call for an arrest in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Florida teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer.
The rally in 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s hometown was one of the largest yet and drew basketball stars Alonzo Mourning and Isaiah Thomas, singers Chaka Khan and Betty Wright, politicians and civil rights leaders.
Martin’s father, speaking briefly, promised the crowd he would not stop fighting “for my Trayvon and for your Trayvon.”
“Each and every one of us feels the pain of this family simply because Trayvon Martin could have been one of all of us,” said Mourning, the former Miami Heat player.
The rally came a day after thousands marched through Sanford, the central Florida town where 28-year-old George Zimmerman shot and killed Martin in February. Martin was walking back from a convenience store, where he had gone to buy candy and iced tea, when he and Zimmerman got into an altercation. Zimmerman says he was attacked and has claimed self-defense; Martin’s family disputes his version of events.
They point to 911 calls, a surveillance video of Zimmerman from shortly after the fatal shooting, and other records that they say prove Martin was not the aggressor. Zimmerman has not been arrested, though state and federal authorities are investigating.
The case has led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and the laws of self-defense. Martin was black; Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
Speaking at the rally Sunday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said the case was about ending all types of racial profiling — not just in criminal cases, but by banks, insurance companies and in the job market.
“End profiling now,” the civil rights activist said to applause.
Jackson also said Martin’s case illustrated the high number of black students who are suspended from school. A report issued by the U.S. Department of Education last month found that black students are more than three times as likely as their white peers to be suspended or expelled. Martin had been suspended from school for having a baggie that contained marijuana residue shortly before he was killed.
“We must stop suspending our children,” Jackson said, asking the crowd to repeat: “Invest in them. Educate them.”
Many of the people who gathered at the bayside park on a sunny afternoon wore T-shirts with Martin’s image and the words “Justice for Trayvon.” Others wore buttons that said, “Do I look suspicious?” One man had a Mohawk with an image of Trayvon Martin painted on one side. A marching band from a high school that the teen attended danced, sang and beat drums.
Numerous supporters came dressed in hooded sweat shirts like the one Martin was wearing when he died.
Among them: Mourning’s 15-year-old son, Trey.
“It could have been me,” Trey Mourning told the crowd.
Grammy winner Chaka Khan said Martin’s death had affected her. “The message I bring to you today is fear kills and love heals,” she said.
Martin’s death occurred more than a month ago, but absent an arrest, his family and others vowed to continue holding protests. Rep. Frederica Wilson organized the rally in Miami, and an attorney for Martin’s parents said demonstrations are being planned for in the coming weeks in cities including Los Angeles and Chicago.
The Rev. Al Sharpton led the crowd in circulating buckets to collect contributions that he said would help pay for the Martins’ legal fees and travel.
“This is not a fit,” Sharpton said. “This is a movement.”