Hundreds rally in Chicago over Trayvon Martin killing
By JASON KEYSER March 24, 2012 6:56PM
A man (who did not disclose his name) yells a chant against capitalism during a protest Saturday, March 24, 2012, at Daley Plaza in Chicago. A group of about 300 people gathered to protest the February 26th shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, FL. Wearing a hooded sweatshirt, Trayvon had moments earlier gone to a store to buy Skittles candies. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: March 24, 2012 6:58PM
Several hundred people rallied in downtown Chicago on Saturday to protest last month’s killing of an unarmed black teenager by a neighborhood watchman in Florida, a slaying that set off emotions in this racially divided city beset by shootings, gang violence and run-ins with police.
Speakers urged the crowd of about 400 people, gathered in a plaza next to City Hall, not to let the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin be in vain. They also reflected on Chicago’s violent streets and harassment of blacks by police. The rally was one of several around the country over the weekend to honor Martin and call for justice.
“It’s a precedent that with the right excuse, it’s OK to gun down black males,” protester Ashten Fizer said of Martin’s killing. “It’s a return of Jim Crow.”
The teen was killed Feb. 26 in the Orlando suburb of Sanford. Neighborhood crime-watch captain George Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Hispanic, has claimed he acted in self-defense after a fight with the teen. He has not been arrested, though state and federal authorities are investigating.
Zimmerman followed Martin as the teen was returning from a convenience store with some candy and iced tea, telling a police dispatcher: “This guy looks like he is up to no good — he is on drugs or something.” Martin’s friends find that hard to believe and say he had never been in a fight.
Many of the protesters wore hooded sweatshirts like the one Martin was dressed in when he was killed. One protester put a sign on the back of his hoodie that read, “Do I look suspicious now?”
Some said Martin’s killing reminded them of the scrutiny and harassment from police endured by their sons and brothers in Chicago.
“I knew about racism, but it took me to raise a black son to really know about racism,” said 50-year-old Sherrie Moses, whose son was called a racial slur in high school and frequently pulled over by police without explanation.
Others said the killing brought to mind the 1955 slaying of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago who was murdered by a group of white men while visiting Mississippi. No one was ever convicted, but Till’s killing galvanized the civil rights movement.
For the Rev. Aaron Watts, the teen’s death brought him to tears over his own recent loss. Stephon Watts, a 15-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome and the minister’s cousin, was shot and killed inside his home by police on Feb. 1 in the southern Chicago suburb of Calumet City.
“He had autism, he wasn’t a gangbanger, there were no drugs,” Watts said. “... If a mad pit bull was on the loose, they’d have had more compassion, trying to calm it down first,” he said of the officers.
Police responded to domestic call after the teenager became upset and pushed his father. Like many with Asperger’s, the teen was highly intelligent but struggled with social skills. He was in the basement using a kitchen knife to try to open a closet where his father had locked his computer. Police say they shot him after he cut one of the officers with the knife.
Martin’s slaying brought back that pain for Aaron Watts.
“I had tried to keep it together for my family. But this week I let it all out,” he said.
Watts keeps a tally of the city’s violence and said that since September he’s counted 57 schoolchildren who have been shot, most in gang shootings.
“I want us to march and turn over cars for that too,” he said.