Rallies, march for Trayvon attract a crowd
Published: Saturday, July 20, 2013 at 8:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 20, 2013 at 8:20 p.m.
Markel Bannister, 12, took to the bullhorn and addressed the crowd.
“I came here to speak to you about Trayvon — that was a sad thing,” he said. “It was upsetting. I didn’t like what I heard, I didn’t like what I saw.”
He then choked up and was unable to continue. As his silence persisted, the crowd clapped and cheered until he began to speak again.
“When I heard that Zimmerman was (found) not guilty, I felt outraged,” he said. “When somebody is killed and the person who did it isn’t charged for it, is not in prison and there is no justice held, what are we to do?”
The crowd applauded vigorously, and a member of the crowd responded, “What we’re doing right now!”
Two events in Gainesville on Saturday were held in response to the not-guilty verdict rendered by the jury in the George Zimmerman trial. Zimmerman, who was charged with second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, was acquitted of all charges on July 13.
At noon on Saturday, a vigil in front of the Alachua County Courthouse was part of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network’s “Justice for Trayvon” — a national day of vigils in more than 100 cities nationwide. The second event was a march and rally organized by the UF chapter of the Dream Defenders and held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Recreation Center near Citizens Field off Waldo Road.
A large, red-and-black canvas banner with the words “Justice 4 Trayvon” hung over the bannister in front of the courthouse, where about 40 people attended the vigil. Krysi Johnson, a local resident, and the UF chapter of Students for a Democratic Society organized the vigil.
As part of the vigil, participants joined in asking that the Department of Justice bring federal civil-rights charges against Zimmerman and for the repeal of Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
“We’re calling on the Department of Justice to criminally indict Zimmerman for violating Trayvon Martin’s constitutional rights because he racially profiled him and attacked him on that basis,” said Jeremiah Tattersall, member of the SDS and rallly organizer. “But beyond that, I was personally offended about Rick Scott’s (call) for a national prayer day for Trayvon Martin. I juxtapose that with what we’re doing (today): Rick Scott said to pray for Trayvon Martin, and what we’re saying is that we’re praying for no more Trayvon Martins.”
While the vigil was going on at the courthouse, at Duval Elementary School to the east, about 100 people and a police escort began to march down Northeast Eighth Avenue as they headed to the MLK Center, where the rally was to be held on a field.
As the vigil at the courthouse came to a close, many of those in attendance rushed off to attend the rally at the MLK Center, which attracted about 200 people.
Demonstrators included an assortment of community members — youths and elders, black and white, students and professionals.
Nailah Summers, a member of the UF chapter of Dream Defenders who helped to organize the rally, said the event was held as a community mourning as well as a first step in unifying people.
“We want(ed) to bring the students and the local community together to build,” she said. “We are one community, and we should act as such … And at the end of this we are actually going to call a meeting to start working on the issues that affect us — the racial profiling, the school-to-prison pipeline in Gainesville — and to try to get our legislators to support a repeal of ‘stand your ground.’ ”
Seventeen people, the majority of whom were local citizens or students, spoke at the rally, including state Rep. Clovis Watson Jr., D-Alachua, and Evelyn Foxx, president of the Alachua County chapter of the NAACP.
Rep. Watson announced plans to present a bill to repeal the “stand your ground” law as a sponsor or a prime co-sponsor.
“I think we are giving citizens an enormous responsibility with the autonomy to take a life from a perception of danger — a perception that your life could be taken,” he said in an interview after his speech. “I think that that type of responsibility to give to our citizens is an unsafe one, and I think it creates vigilantism because it would sometimes give people a sense of power that they may not react to if they didn’t have that security that they can take a life and be free.”
Foxx talked to the crowd about some of the things that she said were discussed at the NAACP’s national convention throughout the last week, such as an attempt to repeal the “stand your ground” law. She also spoke about the importance of getting involved in the political process.
“The important thing that these young people need to know … (is that) you can’t do anything if you don’t register and go to the polls (to) vote because the judges and the state attorneys are elected by the voters,” she said in an interview after her speech. “So, if you want to make a change, it’s through the ballot box — Dr. King always advocated that, and it hasn’t changed in 50 years.”
The Rev. Milford Griner closed out the rally with an impassioned speech about the need to stay determined for justice.
“Trayvon cannot march, so let us march,” he told the crowd. “Trayvon cannot speak, so let us speak. Trayvon cannot rally, so let us rally. He cannot go down to the courthouse, so let us go down to the courthouse — and say we are not asking, but we are demanding justice for Trayvon Benjamin Martin.”