Friday, March 23, 2012
SANFORD, Fla. - Thousands gathered here Thursday night for a rally with some of the nation's best-known luminaries to demand an arrest in the fatal shooting last month of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain.
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"Twenty-six days ago this young man, Trayvon Martin, did nothing criminal, did nothing unethical," said Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network. "He went to the store for his brother. He came back and lost his life. Trayvon could have been any one of our sons, he could have been any one of us. Trayvon represents a reckless disregard for our lives that we've seen for too long."
Sharpton said the watch captain, George Zimmerman, "should have been arrested that night."
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"You cannot defend yourself against a pack of Skittles and an iced tea." Trayvon, the unarmed, black teenager, had a bag of Skittles candy and a bottle of iced tea when he was killed, and those items have become symbols at protests here and elsewhere.
Benjamin Crump, attorney for Trayvon's family, told the crowd that Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, has appointed another prosecutor to review the case. He said Scott named Angela Corey, the state attorney for the Jacksonville area, to take over the investigation, after the local state attorney, Norman Wolfinger, recused himself from the case.
Among others joining them at the rally were: activist and comedian Dick Gregory; Martin Luther King III, eldest son of the late civil rights leader; radio talk-show hosts Michael Baisden, Joe Madison and Mark Thompson; NACP national President Benjamin Jealous; former New York governor David Patterson; television's Judge Greg Mathis; relatives of the late civil rights icon Rosa Parks, and Trayvon's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin.
"Trayvon is my son. Trayvon is your son," Fulton said. "We want justice for Trayvon."
"He didn't deserve to die," said Tracy Martin. "I pledge I will not let my son die in vain."
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Mathis found in the slaying a divine message: God "wants our black youth to fight back against racial profiling ... by going to the polls this November."
Erik Melear, 61, drove up from Orlando with his son, Evan, 15. "We came because what's happening is wrong," said Melear, who is white. "Justice needs to be done. All he did was wear a hoodie. That could have been my son. He wears a hoodie all the time."
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat whose congressional district includes Sanford, said Trayvon's death "has to be a teachable moment for us because there is no good ending."
"I only want one thing, and it's real simple. I want an arrest," Brown said. "We can't change the outcome, but we can make sure the system is fair."
When the audience booed Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett - the only white politician on the stage - Brown reminded them that it was Triplett who released the 911 tapes of the Feb. 26 shooting.
Underlying this case is Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, passed by the Legislature in 2005. State Rep. Mia Jones, a Democrat, said she and 23 other African-American state legislators will immediately begin trying to repeal the law.
Seanta McClendon, 45, drove about an hour from her home in Rockledge, Fla., for the rally. "I am the mother of a Trayvon," she said. "He's a student at Central Michigan University, and he wears a hoodie all the time."
McClendon, who is black, said the shooting of Trayvon "touched a nerve" in the nation. "I think people relate to a 17-year-old," she said. "It could have been any of us. It could have been any of our children, any of our family.
"My heart is in this. I can't stop crying."