SANFORD — Thousands joined a march Saturday through the Florida town where 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer, vowing to continue protesting until an arrest is made.
Protesters carried signs, chanted "Justice for Trayvon," and clutched the hands of their children while they walked to the Sanford Police Department from a local high school that served black students during the segregation era. The march was organized by the NAACP and was one of several taking place over the weekend.
"We live in the middle of an American paradox," the Rev. Al Sharpton told the crowd. "We can put a black man in the White House but we cannot walk a black child through a gated neighborhood. We are not selling out, bowing out or backing down until there is justice for Trayvon."
Martin was shot to death by 28-year-old George Zimmerman on Feb. 26 as he walked from a convenience store back to the home of his father's fiancee in a gated community outside Orlando. The case has stirred a national conversation about race and the laws of self-defense. Martin, a black teenager from Miami, was unarmed when he was shot by Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Hispanic. Zimmerman told police the teen attacked him before he shot in self-defense.
Sharpton and other civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, spoke during a two-hour rally following the half-mile march.
"This is not about a hoodie, it's about racial profiling," Jackson said. "We will use our marching feet, civil disobedience and every weapon in our nonviolent arsenal until justice is served."
A dozen buses from across the state brought protesters to the rally. Shirley Roulhac-Lumpkin came with a group from Miami Gardens.
"I come from an era where people wore white hoods and nobody arrested the KKK," Roulhac-Lumpkin said. "Wearing a hoodie does not mean you're a hoodlum."
Gary Marion, a nurse who grew up in Sanford, said the Sanford Police Department is known "as a good old boy network and this incident sends a message that our children are worth nothing. I would like to see the chief of police charged with obstruction of justice."
Most of the protesters wore T-shirts with images of Trayvon Martin and many carried handmade posters with messages that read, "Hoodies Don't Kill People, Guns Kill People" and "Mother's Tears Have No Color."
"We come to make sense of this great tragedy, and the entire world grieves with us," said Roslyn Brock, who chairs the national board of directors for the NAACP. "When the Sanford police did not arrest George Zimmerman, they essentially placed the burden of proof on a dead young man who cannot speak for himself."