Ira Acree spent two hours passing out fliers in front of the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago, hoping to spread the word about a “Justice for Trayvon” vigil at noon Saturday -- one of at least 100 planned in cities across the nation.
On the way back to his car, Acree, a pastor, spotted a television in the lobby of the parking garage. A crowd had gathered in front, as if “watching the football game,” Acree said. President Obama was speaking.
In his first comments since a six-woman jury acquitted George Zimmerman of murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Obama spoke frankly and reflectively, relating his experiences with race and racial profiling. “Trayvon Martin could have been me,” the president said.
Obama’s earnest words moved Acree almost to tears.
“I just think that the president’s words may help whites across the nation at least understand us,” Acree said. “And be a little bit more emphathetic toward our actions tomorrow.”
Acree chairs the board of a social justice group in Chicago called the Leader’s Network, which is helping organize Saturday’s vigil.
The 100-city “Justice for Trayvon” vigils, which the Rev. Al Sharpton announced Tuesday on the steps of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., will be staged mostly at federal court buildings across the country. In California, rallies are scheduled in Los Angeles, Oakland, Palmdale, Riverside, Sacramento, San Francisco and the Monterey County city of Seaside.
Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and Martin’s brother, Jahvaris, will attend a rally in New York City, along with Sharpton. Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, is attending a vigil in Miami.
With the vigils, organizers are hoping to build momentum for the filing of federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman.
A day after the jury delivered a not-guilty verdict, Sharpton’s civil rights organization, the National Action Network, held a conference call with local organizers.
Earl S. Wagner, a minister with the Ordinary People Society in Montgomery, Ala., was on the call. He listened as Sharpton emphasized that the Trayvon Martin case was “a federal civil rights issue, and that we need to bring that light to the public."
“It’s no longer a states’ rights issue,” Wagner said. “It’s very important that we stand together.”
He added: “This is not just a racial thing. This a civil rights thing.”
The Montgomery rally, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. at the U.S. Federal Courthouse, was organized in conjunction with the NAACP local chapter and students from Alabama State University, a historically black institution, Wagner said.
Organizers plan to start off with a call for the Department of Justice to determine whether federal prosecutors will file civil rights charges. From there, the rally will turn into a march to the state Capitol, where speakers will address the crowds.
Wagner said city and law enforcement officials have stood “wholeheartedly” behind the efforts of organizers.
“Alabama, in particular Montgomery, is the cradle of the civil rights movement,” Wagner said. “It’s very important we continue to help make this into a national movement.”
He added that he would be “very happy” if 300 people showed up, though some rumors were numbering the expected turnout at more than 1,000.
Organizers said it’s tough to guess at the expected turnout in each city.
“We have no idea at this point," Lawanna Gelzer, a spokeswoman for the rally in Orlando, Fla., told the Los Angeles Times. “The more people find out about it, the more it’s advertised, the more people will show up just to hear.”
In Orlando, organizers made parking arrangements and told attendees to bring chairs. Signs are allowed, but no sticks.
Gelzer said the rally at the city’s U.S. Federal Courthouse will open up with a vigil, followed by a discussion of other cases where the “stand your ground” law came into play – particularly the case of Marissa Alexander, a Florida mother of three who was denied a “stand your ground” hearing and sentenced to 20 years in prison after she fired a shot at a wall of her Jacksonville home during an argument with her abusive husband. Zimmerman waived his right for a “stand your ground” hearing, but his attorneys said he acted in self defense.
Gelzer said rally-goers plan to call for a constitutional amendment to repeal the law -- a sentiment recently echoed by Democratic leaders in the Florida Legislature.
Thursday evening, Florida Gov. Rick Scott met with a group of young protesters called the Dream Defenders, who took over Scott’s office three days earlier. The protesters were demanding that Scott call a special session of the Legislature to repeal the “Stand Your Ground” Law.
Scott refused the demands. But he issued a proclamation declaring Sunday a “day of prayer” for Florida.