More than 500 people demonstrated in Washington on Saturday. (Win McNamee / Getty Images )
WASHINGTON — More than 500 people in the nation’s capital joined a wave of rallies in cities across the country protesting the acquittal of George Zimmerman one week ago in the killing of Trayvon Martin and calling for the U.S. Justice Department to file civil rights charges.
Speakers at the rally urged the African American community to use economic boycotts to make their demands for justice heard and to work for the repeal of “stand your ground” laws.
"The purpose of being here today is to make sure Trayvon Martin is not a moment, but a movement," said Joe Madison, a radio host based in Washington.
The protest was one of about 100 planned across the country, including others in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, where the 17-year-old’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, joined the Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton’s National Action Network organized the day of rallies.
Zimmerman, 29, a neighborhood watch volunteer, followed Martin through a gated community in Sanford, Fla., and shot him in a struggle. He said he was defending himself after Martin attacked him, but prosecutors said he had "profiled" Martin as a criminal. A jury acquitted Zimmerman on July 13, reigniting a debate over race relations, gun control and “stand your ground” laws.
U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. has promised the Justice Department will investigate.
In downtown Washington, on a humid day in the 90s, protesters, some shaded by umbrellas, gathered outside the federal courthouse. The crowd was full of neon-colored shirts with the slogan: "No Justice. No Peace." Protesters carried signs that read: "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time" and "Boycott Florida." On nearby Pennsylvania Avenue, cars responded to signs asking them to "Honk 4 Trayvon."
The Rev. Ronald Braxton of Metropolitan AME Church in Washington led the protesters in a chant. "We have come to stand our ground! We have come to stand our ground!"
Joyce G. Davis said she was "traumatized" by the jury's not-guilty verdict and felt she had to do something. The protests are "for the whole country to know that racism still exists," she said. "We have to continue to fight for equality and justice."
Davis brought her nephews, Derrick Almond, 15, and Dominic Almond, 11, who carried Skittles and cans of Arizona iced tea, as Martin did the night he was shot.
"They could have been Trayvon Martin," she said. "They are Trayvon Martin."
Her words echoed those of President Obama, who made a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room to address the verdict a day before the rallies, saying that he could have been Martin. He noted that African Americans view the shooting and verdict differently than many other Americans because they live with the constant presence of prejudice in their lives, but he said that he believes the country is making progress toward a post-racial society.
Protesters also demanded freedom for Marissa Alexander, who fired a warning shot into a wall during an argument with her husband, against whom she had a protective order. The 31-year-old mother of three was sentenced last year to 20 years in prison. Alexander, who is African American, has become a symbol to many of a legal system that they believe does not treat black people fairly.
Hezekiah Baxter Jr. brought a collage of Trayvon he had made that usually hangs in the TV room at his house. "I wanted to let him know that he's not forgotten," he said. "There are millions of Trayvon Martins. We have to stand each time it happens."
At the end of the rally, about 30 protesters marched down the center of Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House as drivers honked in support and seven police cars followed.
Erin Laws, who came from Maryland and was representing a group called the Justice League, said it was the group’s fourth march since Sunday.
“The movement is in action,” she said. “There's bigger groups elsewhere, but as long as we’re in it together, our message will be heard.”
Tasha Patterson and Tameka Young were in a taxi on their way to the demonstration at the courthouse, but hopped out to join the group on its march.
"Someone has to speak out for my children,” Young said, “because they can't speak out for themselves."