More than a thousand protesters converged in the streets of Sanford, Fla., on Saturday to demand the arrest of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Civil-rights organizers from the NAACP and other groups kicked off the march at about 11 a.m. in one of the city’s historic black neighborhoods; they proceeded from there to the Sanford police headquarters, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
The march is the latest in a series of demonstrations sparked by the Feb. 26 killing of the black teenager and the Police Department’s subsequent refusal to press charges against Zimmerman.
The case has taken on racial overtones, drawing considerable national attention and sparking a sometimes-heated discourse about racism and selective policing. Martin was unarmed at the time of his death, and Zimmerman -- who told police he acted in self-defense -- has since gone into hiding.
On their way to police headquarters Saturday, protesters chanted: “We want an arrest. Shot in the chest.”
Once in front of the building, they were introduced to Brendan Mitchell, a youth leader in the NAACP, the Sentinel reported.
“I am 17 years old. I’m a high school student. I’m a young black man,” Mitchell said. “I could be the next Trayvon Martin.”
Since the incident, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee has temporarily resigned, a special prosecutor has been assigned to the case and the U.S. Department of Justice has launched an investigation into the shooting and its aftermath.
Both the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson have commented publicly on the case, pressuring authorities to make an arrest; both men were present at Saturday’s march.
Sharpton has suggested an increase in peaceful civil disobedience and economic sanctions if no action is taken toward Zimmerman’s arrest.
The Florida Civil Rights Assn. said Saturday that it would support Sharpton’s call for sanctions, but details were scant.
“We’re not here to call for a boycott,” NAACP’s national president, Benjamin Todd Jealous, said before the march began, according to the Sentinel.
NAACP Seminole County President Turner Clayton said in a statement emailed to reporters that the marchers were there to push for justice. “This case was mishandled from the start, and all evidence shows that George Zimmerman should to [sic] be arrested. Today, the NAACP sent that message loud and clear,” he added.
In front of police headquarters, City Commissioner Velma Williams shook with emotion, describing herself as a mother, wife and grandmother of black men and promising to get “justice for Trayvon Martin,” the Sentinel reported.
Among the crowd was Terrance Webb, who was wearing a shirt with Martin’s likeness on it. He said he had driven 1,400 miles from his home in Harrisburg. Pa., to join the march. A father of three, Webb told the Sentinel that Martin could have been his son.
“We can all identify with him being our son,” Webb said.