Trayvon Martin protests continue in Chicago

March 24, 2012 8:09:58 AM PDT
Hundreds of marchers in Chicago today joined a growing national movement sparked by the shooting of an unarmed black teen in Florida.

Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch captain and demands for justice are getting louder.

For the second time in the day, hundreds gathered in the Loop to denounce the killing of Martin.

"It has gone on too many times, too many years now you know this has come to a head and it is time for us all to speak out not just black people but everybody," said Ed Davis.

Chicago's Bradbury family joined the chorus demanding justice for the slain 17-year-old Floridian.

"Nowadays, people are just getting shot and for like no apparent reason nobody has a grudge against anyone or anything," said 13-year-old Quinton Bradbury.

"I have lived in this country my whole life and I have been black just as long and I gotta tell you, sometimes things just don't change," said Sherri Bradbury. "You hope they do but you know for my son's sake I hope so."

In South Florida, students from 48 schools donned hoodies and walked out of class to protest the lack of an arrest in the case. The NBA's Miami Heat donned a similar pose, as did staffers on Capitol Hill.

Twenty-eight-year-old George Zimmerman pulled the trigger on Martin last month when the youngster was walking home from a convenience store. Zimmerman has not been charged due to Florida's Stand Your Ground Law, which makes it difficult to arrest and prosecute homicide suspects who claim self defense.

Even President Obama is weighing in on the controversy surrounding the investigation of Trayvon Martin's death.

''If I had son, he'd look like Trayvon,'' President Barack Obama said Friday as public outrage over the handling of an investigation into the shooting death of the Florida teenager grows. "I think (his parents) are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness that it deserves."

Martin, 17, was shot to death by a neighborhood watch leader in suburban Orlando where he lived last month. His family and civil rights activists believe the unarmed teenager was shot because he was black.

His admitted shooter, George Zimmerman, 28, has not been charged. The outrage of the handling of this case -- and the lack of charges -- has led to vigils across the nation -- including in Chicago, where a march was planned for Friday afternoon at Millennium Park.

There were students -- some the same age and younger than Trayvon Martin -- and there were graying veterans of the civil rights movement who came out because, as they said, Martin could be our son or grandson.

Over 200 people joined this march-- different ages, different life experience, but their bond is their outrage over the death of Martin. Many of the marchers Friday symbolically carried cans of iced tea and packages of candy, the same things that the Florida teen had with him when he was shot and killed last month.

Over many years there have been many shootings of young Black men throughout the United States but here in Chicago many people who are protesting say this time it is different, especially after the President made such personal comments about the tragedy in Florida.

"I am here because I am incredibly disheartened at the way black life is treated here in America, not just Trayvon Martin," said Jose Olivarez.

The marchers plan to get together again as part of a national million hoodie march. Zimmerman's lawyer says his client is cooperating with investigators.

"I know a lot of kids think that it can't happen to them," said Janeya Cunningham, "but I'm here, even if I am the only teenager, I really don't care, because a bullet doesn't have a name on it. It can be any kids, any day, and I think that the kids should take it more seriously, and it shouldn't just be the adults out here marching for their kids, but the kids too."

Among the marchers, there is anger with what happened in Florida, with the investigation that followed, and also demands that the Justice Department dig deep into the shooting, the man who pulled the trigger, the actions of local police and a Florida "Stand Your Ground Law" that has stirred controversy.

"We thought that we had arrived when we got Dr. King and he made way for us, so we just stopped marching," said Velma Henderson. "Now people do stuff to us and we just say, 'Oh, it ain't my problem, it ain't my son, it ain't my daughter.' But it's all our kids."

Though Trayvon Martin's death happened far away, the marchers wanted to make the point that that type of tragedy is not defined by geography.

"A small march, a small publicity is a snowball effect," said George Davis. "And a snowball won't grow unless it starts rolling, so I think these things continue to add up, and once you continue to build on them and build on them, it causes people to have a conversation. It causes the discussion the discussion that needs to happen."

Chicago Priest Michael Pfleger is also calling on churches to stand in solidarity with Martin's family on Sunday by placing a hoodie, skittles and iced tea -- objects Martin had with him -- on the altars.

The Justice Department and FBI are now investigating possible civil rights violations and a grand jury is considering charges. President Obama said Friday following a White House Rose Garden Ceremony he is "glad" about the Justice Department investigation and that the state of Florida has formed a task force to look into the case.

"This is a tragedy. I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids. And I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together -- federal, state and local -- to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened," President Obama said. "But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."

Activists call for Zimmerman's arrest

At a rally in Sanford, Fla., on Thursday night, protesters including civil rights leader Al Sharpton called for Zimmerman to be prosecuted.

"We cannot allow a precedent when a man can just kill one of us ... and then walk out with the murder weapon," said Sharpton, flanked by Martin's parents and a stage full of supporters.

Police Chief Bill Lee said earlier in the day that he was stepping down temporarily to try to cool the building anger that his department did not arrest neighborhood watch volunteer Zimmerman, who has said he shot Martin on Feb. 26 in self-defense. Hours later, the governor announced that the local state attorney, Norman Wolfinger, had recused himself from the case.

Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, believe Zimmerman should have been arrested. They claim he was profiling their son and acted like a vigilante. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Peruvian.

Tracy Martin told the thousands at the rally to keep his son in their minds.

"If Trayvon were here, he would have been here tonight," he said. "He was a people person. Let's get justice for your son."

The signs, chants and sentiments all came down to a demand for justice in the case. Another rally was set for the state capitol Friday and students at Martin's Miami high school planned to walk out in protest in the afternoon.

At Thursday's protest, some people carried signs that said: "100 years of lynching, justifiable homicide. Same thing." Others sold T-shirts that read: "Arrest Zimmerman."

"It's the norm around here, where anything involving black culture, they want to wipe their hands of it," said Shella Moore, who is black and grew up in Sanford.

The Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation, and the local prosecutor before he quit the case convened a grand jury April 10 to determine whether to charge Zimmerman.

Martin was returning from a trip to a convenience store when Zimmerman started following him, telling police dispatchers he looked suspicious. At some point, the two got into a fight and Zimmerman pulled out his gun.

Zimmerman told police Martin attacked him after he had given up on chasing the teenager and was returning to his sport utility vehicle.

The shooting ignited resentment toward the police department in this Orlando suburb for not making an arrest. Civil rights groups have held rallies in Florida and New York, saying the shooting was unjustified. Of Sanford's 53,000 residents, 57 percent are white and 30 percent are black.

In a letter to Gov. Rick Scott, state attorney Wolfinger said that while he thought he could fairly oversee any prosecution that develops in the case, his recusal was aimed at "toning down the rhetoric and preserving the integrity of the investigation." Scott appointed Angela B. Corey, the state attorney for the Jacksonville area, to take over.

The chief's decision came less than a day after city commissioners gave him a "no confidence" vote and after a couple of weeks of protests and uproar on social media websites. Lee has said evidence supported Zimmerman's assertion that the shooting was in self-defense.

"I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to a city which has been in turmoil for several weeks," Lee said.

The chief said he stood behind his agency's investigation.

"As a former homicide investigator, a career law enforcement officer and a father, I am keenly aware of the emotions associated with this tragic death of a child. I'm also aware that my role as a leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation," Lee said.

Martin's parents said the police chief's action wasn't enough, and that Zimmerman should be taken into custody.

"We want an arrest, we want a conviction and we want him sentenced for the murder of my son," Martin's father, Tracy, said to the fiery crowd of protesters at Fort Mellon Park.

It wasn't immediately clear how long the police chief would step aside. Some people said he should just quit.

"If they wanted to defuse a potential powder keg, he needed to resign," said pastor Eugene Walton, 58, who was born and raised in Sanford. "His inaction speaks loudly to the black community."

News of the police chief's decision to step aside spread quickly among the protesters, many of whom showed up more than two hours before the start of the rally. They chanted "The chief is gone. Zimmerman is next."

Dick Gregory, a comedian who uses humor to convey his civil rights message, said the steady pressure should be the goal going forward.

"All you have to do is be a turtle," he said. "Hard on the outside, soft on the inside and willing to stick your neck out."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.