Hundreds of protesters snaked through Los Angeles on Saturday in a spirited and orderly demonstration spurred by last week’s acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African American teen Trayvon Martin.
This “was not a black-and-white issue, it was a right and wrong issue,” shouted Los Angeles civil rights activist Najee Ali, speaking to a mostly black crowd of about 400 at downtown’s federal courthouse, where the march began. “Any time a young man goes to the store to buy some Skittles and some ice tea and then he is followed, he is profiled, he is murdered, that is wrong.”
The gathering and march were part of what had been dubbed a "national day of action" by demonstrators who say that Zimmerman being found not guilty on either second-degree murder or manslaughter charges was a blow to justice. Similar gatherings were held across the country.
Zimmerman had been charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Martin, who was unarmed, on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, in central Florida.
The neighborhood watch volunteer maintained that he shot Martin in self-defense when the teenager attacked him. Prosecutors argued that he had profiled and stalked Martin, 17, who was returning from a convenience store after buying Skittles and a soft drink. Martin was walking in the rain back to the home where he was staying in the Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford.
Some in Saturday’s crowd held signs sketched with an image of Martin in the hoodie he wore on that February night when he was killed. Others held bags of Skittles or bottles of Arizona Iced Tea, which he was carrying when the confrontation began.
A dominant theme among demonstrators was a call for U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to press federal charges against Zimmerman -- and for Holder to put an end to racial profiling and “stand your ground” self-defense laws.
“I brought my son here to give him a reality check,” said David Henderson, a 58-year-old African American insurance appraiser, standing in front of the court building next to his son, 13-year-old Darius.
With his son smiling shyly, Henderson explained that he feared Darius wasn’t fully aware of the potential for danger he faces as a black teen. “It’s hurts that this is 2013 and we are still telling our kids these things, but we are. Being at this demonstration drives all of that home for him.”
A few feet away, Jane Wilson, a 49-year-old actress, stood with her son, Preston Lucy, 10. Wilson had also brought her son to the protest as a teaching tool, but because she and Preston are white, the message she hoped to drive home was different. “It’s important for my son to know that a lot of the things he takes for granted -- that he can walk down the street with a bag of Skittles and not be a suspect – this is a privilege not every kid has…It’s important that my family be here to support justice for all.”
From the court building, the protest took to the streets, a large group peacefully marching through downtown, followed by a phalanx of police who blocked off intersections and kept cars at bay. The group eventually made its way to Mid-City, where demonstrators began to split up, some going home, a smaller group heading south to the Crenshaw district.