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Across US, people rally for ‘Justice for Trayvon’

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Updated: July 20, 2013 2:33PM



ATLANTA (AP) — One week after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, people gathered for nationwide rallies to press for changes to self-defense laws and for federal civil rights charges against the former neighborhood watch leader.

The Florida case has become a flashpoint in separate but converging national debates over self-defense laws, guns, and race relations. Zimmerman, who successfully claimed self-defense, identifies as Hispanic. Martin was black.

The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network organized the “Justice for Trayvon” rallies and vigils outside federal buildings in at least 101 cities: from New York and Los Angeles to Wichita, Kan., and Atlanta, where people stood in the rain at the base of the federal courthouse, with traffic blocked on surrounding downtown streets.

Most rallies were scheduled for noon local times. Hundreds of people — including music superstars Jay-Z and Beyonce, as well as Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton — gathered in New York.

Fulton told the crowd she was determined to fight for societal and legal 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 said to the rally crowd.

At a morning appearance 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 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 laws eliminate a person’s duty to retreat in the face of a serious physical threat.

Zimmerman did not invoke Florida’s stand-your-ground law, instead relying on a traditional self-defense argument. Nor was race discussed in front of the jury that acquitted Zimmerman. But the two topics have dominated public discourse about the case, and came up throughout Saturday’s rallies.

Part of Sharpton’s comments echoed those made by President Barack Obama on the case yesterday. “Racial profiling is not as bad as segregation, but you don’t know the humiliation of being followed in a department store,” Sharpton said.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that his department would investigate whether Zimmerman could be charged under federal civil rights laws. Such a case would require evidence that Zimmerman harbored racial animosity against Martin. Most legal experts say that would be a difficult charge to bring.

Holder said the shooting demonstrates the need to re-examine stand-your-ground laws.

In Miami, Tracy Martin spoke about his son.

“This could be any one of our children,” he said. “Our mission now is to make sure that this doesn’t happen to your child.”

He recalled how he vowed to Trayvon as he lay in his casket that he would seek justice.

“I will continue to fight for Trayvon until the day I die,” he said.

Shantescia Hill held a sign in Miami that read: “Every person deserves a safe walk home.” The 31-year-old mother, who is black, said, “I’m here because our children can’t even walk on the streets without fearing for their lives.”

In New Orleans, hundreds sang gospel hymns, clapping and swaying with hands outstretched on the steps of the U.S. District Courthouse.

A number of young black males held signs that read: “I am Trayvon Martin” and “Am I Next?”

The crowd chanted “No Justice, No Peace” as a series of speakers addressed the crowd by microphone. Among the speakers was former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Morial said the Florida criminal justice system failed Martin.

In California, hundreds of people gathered in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities Saturday morning, to be followed by afternoon rallies in Sacramento, Oakland and Palmdale.

Religious and community leaders addressed crowds in Los Angeles, where chants of “no justice, no peace!” broke out occasionally during the gathering. Signs carried condemnations of the justice system, with one in Los Angeles that read “This is Amerikkka: From Dred Scott to Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin, black people have no rights that white people are bound to respect.”

In Arizona, the push for civil rights charges against Zimmerman drew more than 200 people to a rally in Tucson. The crowd of civil rights and religious leaders, University of Arizona students and others chanted “Tucson, we won’t forget” during Saturday’s gathering at El Presidio Park.

A rally was also planned Saturday outside the federal courthouse in Phoenix.

In Philadelphia, hundreds gathered in front of the federal court building and spilled over onto Market, blocking the entire thoroughfare as they waved signs, chanted and listened to speeches.

In Indianapolis, about 200 people gathered at the federal courthouse downtown and cheered as Pastor Jeffrey Johnson compared Zimmerman’s acquittal on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter to the 1992 acquittal of four white officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King.

“The verdict freed George Zimmerman, but it condemned America more,” said Johnson, pastor of the Eastern Star Church in Indianapolis. Johnson is also on the board of directors of the National Action Network.

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Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik in New York and Charles Wilson in Indianapolis contributed to this report.



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