Rally held for slain Florida teen

ShootingsTrayvon MartinFamilyCrime, Law and JusticePoliticsSafety of CitizensRobert Zimmerman

LOS ANGELES (KTLA) -- Thousands of protesters across the nation, and in Southern California, continue to rally for justice in the shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Leimert Park Thursday night.

Another rally is planned on Saturday at Hollywood and Highland from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The 17-year-old was shot to death on Feb. 26 while walking to his house in Sanford, Fla. after a trip to the convenience store.

Police say a neighborhood watch leader, George Zimmerman, chased and shot the unarmed teen because he thought he looked suspicious.

Zimmerman, who claims he shot Martin in self-defense, has not been arrested.

The uproar over Martin's death has reverberated nationwide with demands for Zimmerman's arrest and scrutiny of police actions.

An estimated 8,000 people gathered at Fort Mellon Park in Sanford on Thursday night to hear the Rev. Al Sharpton give one of his trademark impassioned speeches.

Sharpton took the podium nearly an hour into the rally and stirred the crowd.

"Twenty-six days ago, this young man Trayvon Martin ... went to the store for his brother. He came back and lost his life," Sharpton told the cheering crowd. "Trayvon represents a reckless disregard for our lives."

Sharpton said he was angry at the handling of this case, and frustrated that Zimmerman had not been arrested.

"Enough is enough," Sharpton said. "Zimmerman should have been arrested that night. You cannot defend yourself against a pack of Skittles and iced tea."

Sharpton then introduced Trayvon's parents: his mother, Sybrina Fulton, and father, Tracy Martin.

"I stand before you today not knowing how I'm walking right now because my heart hurts for my son," Fulton said. "Trayvon is my son. Trayvon is your son. Thanks so much for your support."

Tracy Martin described his son as a "people's person" who did not deserve to die.

Just as the rally was getting under way, news came that Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi appointed a special prosecutor to investigate Trayvon's shooting death, removing the state attorney who had been considering the case.

Just hours earlier, Sanford police Chief Bill Lee Jr. announced he was stepping down from his post "temporarily."

"My role as the leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation," said Lee, brought down by a firestorm of criticism over the fatal shooting.

The Justice Department has also launched a civil rights investigation into the shooting.

Justice Department officials met with Martin's parents on Thursday.

"During the course of this meeting, we listened carefully to the concerns of the family and their representatives," the Justice Department said in a statement. "Earlier this week, the Department of Justice announced the opening of a parallel investigation into the death of Trayvon Martin. That matter remains open at this time."

The case has riveted the nation. Martin's family asserts that race was a factor in the black teenager's death.

On Thursday morning, a petition on Change.org urging prosecution for Zimmerman was getting 1,000 signatures per minute, said Noland Chambliss, communications manager for Change.org.

Zimmerman, who was patrolling the neighborhood, saw Martin walking in his gated community.

He called 911 and reported what he described as a suspicious person.

Moments later, several neighbors called the emergency number to report a commotion outside.

The 911 tapes of neighbors' calls to emergency dispatchers picked up cries for help followed by the sound of a gunshot.

Martin's girlfriend was on the phone with him during the incident and can help prove he was killed "in cold blood," said Benjamin Crump, the Martin family's attorney.

Shortly before he was shot, the teen told his girlfriend that someone was following him and he was trying to get away, according to the lawyer.

The girl, who did not want to be identified, said that during the call, she heard Martin ask why the person was following him.

She got the impression there was an altercation in which his cell phone earpiece fell out after he was pushed, and the connection went dead, Crump said. She did not hear gunfire, he said.

Zimmerman's father, Robert, told a Florida newspaper that the 28-year-old had moved from the area after receiving death threats.

He was a student at Seminole State College, but the college said Thursday that it had "taken the unusual but necessary step this week to withdraw" Zimmerman from enrollment.

Zimmerman's family has denied that race played a role, saying he has many minority relatives and friends.

"The portrayal of George Zimmerman in the media, as well as the series of events that led to the tragic shooting, are false and extremely misleading," his father wrote in a letter published in the Orlando Sentinel.

"Unfortunately, some individuals and organizations have used this tragedy to further their own causes and agendas."

"George is a Spanish-speaking minority with many black family members and friends," Robert Zimmerman wrote. "He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever."

Heated debate has erupted over whether Zimmerman used a racial slur during the 911 call, a recording of which was released this week.

"We didn't hear it. However, I am not sure what was said," Sgt. David Morgenstern of the Sanford Police Department said.

"I have listened to the tapes, and I have not heard them use a racial slur," concurred City Manager Bonaparte.

Police say they have not charged Zimmerman because they have no evidence to contradict his story that he shot in self-defense.

The shooting has renewed a debate over a controversial state law and sparked calls for a review.

Florida's deadly force law, also called "stand your ground," allows people to meet "force with force" if they believe there is danger of serious harm to themselves or someone else.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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ShootingsTrayvon MartinFamilyCrime, Law and JusticePoliticsSafety of CitizensRobert Zimmerman