Special to South Florida Times
One day after thousands marched in Sanford, the Central Florida town where 28-year-old George Zimmerman fatally shot unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, civil rights activists, political and church leaders and residents converged in Miami to continue pressing for the shooter’s arrest.
“We want justice for Trayvon,” Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones said during the rally Sunday at Bayfront Park. “Make no mistake, this is our wake-up call. Everyone needs to stand their ground to make sure that Trayvon’s death is not a statistic.”
“Here in Miami, the law has been used to justify the killings of young black men,” Spence-Jones added. Speaking directly to Trayvon’s parents Tracy Martin and Sabrina Fulton, she added: “Your baby has sparked a movement.”
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan said Trayvon’s killing “took me back to the 1950s.” She said community leaders are “begging” Special Prosecutor Angela B. Corey to pursue justice for the Trayvon.
“This is not about black and white, but about truth and justice,” Jordan said.
As more communities join the call for justice for the Miami Gardens teenager, the West Palm Beach branch of the NAACP held a community rally on March 28 at Payne Chapel AME Church in West Palm Beach.
“Many people can empathize with this situation. It's a young person who had so much ahead of him, just gunned down,” said NAACP branch president and event organizer Lia Gaines. “Racially profiling young black men is an issue.”
Palm Beach County Commissioner and former state representative Priscilla Taylor said she was in the Legislature when the “Stand Your Ground” law was passed and had spoken out vehemently against it. “And I still feel it's a bad law,” she said.
Several other people spoke at the gathering, including Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters. “Society has a duty to protect our children. Our children should be able to walk in any neighborhood and not walk in fear,” he said.
Edith Bush, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Coordinating Committee, said the tragedy had now gone past Trayvon. “It is a movement in this country, that things have to change.”
And West Palm Beach Police Officer William McCray, who said he has been in law enforcement 20 years, said the Sanford Police Department ignored basic law enforcement protocol by not arresting Zimmerman. “The person who started the chain of violence, or the primary aggressor, is the person who you arrest,” McCray said. “(Zimmerman) had dialed 911 many times. I'm sure they were familiar with him.”
The City of Opa-locka in Miami-Dade County also joined the chorus of calls for justice in the case. Mayor Myra L. Taylor announced at a press conference on March 26 that the city commission approved a resolution supporting a call by the Florida State Conference of the NAACP for the Community Relations Service of the U.S. Department of Justice to review the shooting.
Those with her at the meeting included Opa-locka City Commissioners Timothy Holmes and Gail Miller; former Miami Commissioner the Rev. Richard P. Dunn II; the president of the African-American Council of Christian Clergy the Rev. Dr. Gregory Thompson; former Opa-locka mayors John Riley and the Rev. Joseph L. Kelley; and Florida International Academy Principal Sonia Mitchell.
Miller wore a “hoodie” and held a bag of candy and a can of ice tea at the session — items that were found on Trayvon’s body.
The Miami rally was one of the largest held yet in support of Trayvon’s family in a case that has sparked protests across the nation and re-ignited the intense debate about race and the laws of self-defense.
Trayvon was black; Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is of Peruvian descent.
Zimmerman’s claim of probable cause does not need to be tried in a police station, said civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, referring to the shooter’s release after being taken to the station. “If it were me, I don’t care how much I talked or what I had to say, they would tell me tell it to the judge.”
Some in the rally called for the repeal of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law which provides impunity for the use of deadly force in self-defense and was signed into law by then Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005.
“It’s Jim Crow revisited,” said Lavonia Williams, 45, of Overtown. “The minute I heard Bush talking about it, I knew then that the killings of young black men would not only be on the rise but (deemed) justified.”
Thomas Gaines, 53, of Homestead, added, “It’s not just the police doing these shootings. It’s open season for any redneck with a gun. Our boys aren’t game and I for one am tired of going to their funerals instead of high school and college graduations.”
Young black males are now being told by their parents to “cut back on dressing to be cool, in style,” said De’Marius Anderson, 14. “My mom, my friends’ moms, they all act like they are scared. They worry about what we wear and where we go.”
De’Marius, who attended the rally dressed in a hoodie, said he had not worn it “in a couple of months. If it’s going to cause trouble, like it did for Trayvon, my mom insists that I leave it in my closet.”
His mother, Angela Anderson, said she was “just not going to bury my boy because people in Florida have gone crazy with the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law. No one should have to lose a child, let alone live every day knowing the killer is free, knowing that your child’s life was not important enough to make an arrest or properly investigate the crime.”
Kyoto Walker and South Florida Times staff contributed to this report.
Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net
Photo: James Forbes/for South Florida Times
CALL FOR JUSTICE: Al Lares, right, and his son Nicholas were among demonstrators at a rally in Miami’s Bayfront Park on Sunday calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin Feb. 26 in Sanford.