Tracy Martin choked back tears as he addressed several hundred people gathered Saturday outside the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. United States Federal Courthouse in downtown Miami to demand justice for his slain son Trayvon.
“I’d like the world to know that Trayvon was my son. He was a loved child and we’re not going to let them persecute him the way they have,” Martin said at the Justice for Trayvon Prayer Vigil and Rally, one of 100 held across the nation organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN).
The events came exactly one week after a Sanford jury acquitted former neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman on murder and manslaughter charges in the fatal shooting of Trayvon on Feb. 26, 2012.
Pastors, politicians and people from all walks of life prayed, sang, gave speeches and observed a moment of silence in memory of Trayvon. They also joined a mounting call for the repeal of Florida’s “stand your ground” self-defense law which has been criticized by President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
“Last Saturday said to the rest of us that we have people that will go in and come out with a verdict that says we will give you a license to pursue an African-American teenager. We are giving you a license to stand behind a law that is ungodly and unjust. Stand-your-ground is from the pit of hell. Stand-your-ground was wrong then and it’s wrong now,” said Bishop Vistor T. Curry, president of the South Florida Chapter of NAN and head of the New Birth Baptist Cathedral of Faith International in Opa-locka.
The controversial law also came in for harsh criticism at a town hall panel discussion sponsored by the Urban League Young Professionals of Palm Beach County Monday in West Palm Beach. The session also focused on Institutionalized racism, social perceptions and moving forward in unity.
State Rep. Bobby Powell Jr., D-Riviera Beach, a panelist, criticized the legislation, arguing that individuals have a responsibility to retreat before invoking the stand-your-ground law.
“Before stand-your-ground legislation passed, if a person thought they were in danger, they had a duty to retreat,” he said. “The stand-your-ground law has eliminated the responsibility of a law enforcement officer to make an arrest such as in the case of Trayvon Martin.”
State Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, agreed, saying the law, which has been invoked more than 100 times in Florida, should be repealed. He said there is bigotry in the Legislature and many laws are set up to send minorities to prison.
Panelist and West Palm Beach Attorney Corey Smith said the law “incentivizes shoddy police work such as in Sanford. It incentivizes a person to kill another person so that there isn’t another witness.”
Sociologist Jennifer Mueller added that trying to change social perceptions will not help improve race relations much because institutions have been designed to promote white supremacy.
“The cost of real change, as in the civil rights movement, comes by people who are willing to challenge the injustices,” Mueller said. “Racial profiling is a piece of the puzzle of racism in our country.”
In Miami, Martin family members, friends and workers from Trayvon Martin Foundation accompanied the Tracy Martin to the rally, where he said his son’s death would not be in vain.
YOUR CHILD TOO
“I vowed to Trayvon that day when he was laying in his casket that I would use every ounce of energy in my body to seek justice for him. I will continue to fight for Trayvon until the day I die and I will not only fight for Trayvon but for your child as well,” Martin said.
Other speakers included Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, D-Florida, state Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jean Monestime and international poet Rebecca “Butterfly” Vaughns.
“As a black man and a father of two boys, this case was personal,” said Monestime, the first Haitian-American commissioner. “As the president said, Trayvon Martin could’ve been my son; Trayvon Martin could’ve been me. No one in America should fear walking home while black.”
Wilson, whose has Trayvon’s elder brother Jahvaris Fulton as an intern, urged people to keep the momentum going. The 5000 Role Models of Excellence program which she founded is specifically designed to help black boys.
“In this 21stcCentury, our black boys are still targeted but we have to teach them, love them and lift them,” Wilson said. “Until we pass meaningful laws against profiling America’s little black boys and black men, they will continue to be harassed for driving while black, shopping while black, walking while black and just being plain old black.”
The Zimmerman verdict took center stage also at a panel discussion in Orlando which focused on the media’s handling of the case.
The media made a multitude of mistakes in covering the prosecution of Zimmerman, some civic leaders in Central Florida, where the killing and trial took place, said during the discussion last Thursday organized for the state’s news editors.
The criticism ran the gamut from the photos of Trayvon and Zimmerman that were published soon after the teen’s shooting death to the initial failure of the media to treat the case as a significant story.
It didn’t gain wide attention until Trayvon’s father began calling for Zimmerman’s arrest and the media picked up on suggestions that it was a case of racial profiling.
“It was just another black boy dead in Sanford and it was not an important story until Tracy Martin pushed it,” said Francis Oliver, curator of the Goldsboro Historical Museum in Sanford, which displays the area’s black heritage.
Orlando Sentinel breaking news editor Michelle Guido acknowledged that the paper didn’t devote much coverage to the case immediately after Trayvon was killed,
having little initial information on the shooting in a region where shootings are not uncommon. “It sounds weird in the context of something that’s become so huge but the initial story, that is a story that we see every day. I’m sure we’ve got one today,” she said.
The discussion took place during the annual Florida Press Association/Florida Society of News Editors convention.
Once the shooting gained attention, the media generated more outrage by putting a photo of a 13- or 14-year-old Trayvon next to an old mug shot of Zimmerman, making it seem unbelievable that a menacing-looking Zimmerman could have been in fear of his life from a boyish-looking Trayvon, said Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte.
“People that saw that around the world saw that as Trayvon and saw that as George Zimmerman and you’re telling me that that little kid was beating up that other guy so bad that he felt in threat of his life and he shot and killed him and your police department, after talking to George Zimmerman, said, ‘OK, you’re free to go!’” Bonaparte said. “I thought that was an injustice in the sense of that wasn’t accurate reporting.”
Isheka Harrison reported from Miami. Kyoto Walker reported from West Palm Beach. Material from the Associated Press was used for this story.
*PUBLIC ANGER: Hundreds of protesters angered at the acquittal of George Zimmerman who killed Trayvon Martin rallied at the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Federal Courthouse in Miami Saturday, one of a series of some 100 rallies organized across the country by the National Action Network.