Protesters denouncing Zimmerman acquittal hit L.A. streets again

Protesters denouncing Zimmerman acquittal hit L.A. streets again
Peta Lindsey, left, embraces a weeping Rajeeyah Bilal-Varney after delivering an emotional speech at a rally on the steps of L.A. City Hall. Varney’s 17-year-old son was killed in the 1990s.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Protesters took to Los Angeles streets for the fourth night in a row Tuesday, waving signs and chanting slogans to denounce the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager.

Marches downtown and in Leimert Park appeared peaceful as of late Tuesday evening, a break from the violence that pocked Monday protests and spurred dozens of arrests in Los Angeles and Oakland.


In downtown Los Angeles, about 200 people joined in a march from City Hall to the nearby Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, where officers in riot helmets stood with batons. Protesters young and old and of many ethnicities chanted, “Whose streets? Trayvon’s streets.”

The event was organized by the ANSWER coalition, a national group that describes itself as antiwar and anti-racist. Members of Occupy Los Angeles and other groups joined in.


“We won’t stop marching until there is justice for Trayvon Martin,” ANSWER organizer Eugene Puryear said over a loudspeaker at City Hall. “We won’t stop sitting in.... We won’t get out of the streets.”

Rajeeyah Bilal-Varney, 58, said she was marching because she had cried and screamed at the television when she learned that Zimmerman had been acquitted in a Florida trial that garnered national headlines.

“I feel like Trayvon is my son,” said Bilal-Varney, of Lakewood. “I feel like this is a racist system, and I can’t just sit back and do nothing.”

The Martin case hit close to home: In the 1990s, her 17-year-old son was shot to death. His killer was never brought to justice, which she doesn’t think would have happened had her son not been black, she said.


Bilal-Varney said she expects the movement to grow in the coming weeks as the marches get more publicity.

“I’m ready for the long haul until something changes,” she said. If things don’t change, Bilal-Varney said, “my great-great-great grandchildren are going to be out here, protesting the same thing.”

In Leimert Park, scores of people gathered to demonstrate, hoisting signs reading “Justice for Trayvon.” Children mingled in the crowds. Among the protesters was Jennifer Anderson, 31, an emergency room nurse from West Los Angeles.

“If it’s not racism, then what is it?” Anderson said of the Zimmerman verdict. She has no children, but said that when she does, “I don’t want them to feel scared, to feel like they can’t defend themselves if a man with a gun is coming after them.”


The tranquillity of both events stood in sharp contrast to Monday night, when small groups of rogue protesters broke away from peaceful demonstrations and wreaked havoc along Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles.

City Terrace resident Cuauhtemoc Negrete, who came for Monday’s march, was standing at the corner of Vernon Avenue and Crenshaw when he found himself singled out by some of the agitators. He didn’t see who punched him in the back of the head. Another person grabbed his bike and rode off.

“It just made me feel so small,” he said.

Shortly after the attack, Negrete broke down in tears and expressed his frustration over the violence. He said he felt he was targeted because he was Latino.

“Why does it always have to go down this road?” he told The Times on Monday night.

Police said Tuesday that reporter Dave Bryan and cameraman Scott Torrens, who both work for KCBS-TV Channel 2 and KCAL-TV Channel 9, were also attacked. Video shows Bryan getting hit in the back of the head by Torrens’ camera as he interviewed 43-year-old Joseph Degurre. The attackers ran off, witnesses said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 20 people had been arrested in Los Angeles during the demonstrations. The first to face charges was Brandon Bell of Los Angeles, who was charged Tuesday with punching a police officer during a Mid-City demonstration, prosecutors said. If convicted on all counts, he could face up to two years in jail.

In Oakland, where protesters broke windows and assaulted a restaurant server with a hammer Monday, police officers and journalists outnumbered demonstrators for much of Tuesday evening.

At a small and peaceful event Tuesday near City Hall, demonstrators signed a large paper banner that declared in big letters, “We are all Trayvon Martin.”

Times staff writers Angel Jennings, Joseph Serna, Andrew Blankstein, Evan Wagstaff, Maria La Ganga, Kate Mather, Rong-Gong Lin II and Emily Alpert contributed to this report.

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