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Tampa rally for slain teen draws hundreds

TAMPA — It was a rally with the flavor of a 1960s civil rights march. But this one came in the age of Facebook and the smartphone.

Between 600 and 1,000 people marched to one of Tampa's busiest intersections Saturday in a call for justice in the case of Trayvon Martin. He's the unarmed, black 17-year-old who was shot and killed on Feb. 26 by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford.

George Zimmerman, 28, who claimed self-defense in the shooting, has not been arrested or charged, sparking national outrage. Zimmerman's father is white, his mother Latina, according to neighbors.

Members of Martin's family attended the event, organizers said, but were not available for interviews.

The rally started in Al Lopez Park. Protesters carried signs that said "I am Trayvon" or "Justice for Trayvon." They marched to the intersection of N Dale Mabry Highway and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, often chanting "No justice, no peace."

Many in the crowd wore hoodies or carried bags of Skittles, just as Martin did when he was killed.

The event was organized by a small Facebook group called Real Talk: Real Answers, and organizers said they were stunned to draw such a large crowd just 72 hours after they first talked of holding the rally.

Decades ago, the black community organized around its churches with calls to action often coming from the pulpit. And while that is still true, organizers said social media have amplified the conversation about race.

"Social media have expanded the racial discussion in this country and in the world," said Jean Vixamar, 37, one of the leaders of the Facebook group. Social media, he said, "erase barriers."

Artist Rob Mitchell, 23, of Tampa said he learned of the event through Facebook. "I caught the buzz," he said.

If the technology has changed, the message of racial equality and justice was an echo of the protests by earlier generations.

Jazz Young, 20, of Tampa came to the rally with her two young sons and said Martin's death is a chilling reminder to any mother about how quickly tragedy can strike.

"He was someone's baby," Young said.

Brande Ford, 22, of Tampa attended with her 2-year-old daughter. She said the Martin case showed the black community that while issues of race have improved since the days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there was still work to be done.

"This happened even though we have a black president and all," Ford said.

Orlando Davis, 40, host of the morning show on rap station WLLD-FM (Wild 94.1), said social media had revolutionized protest.

"This makes a president address this issue," Davis said.

President Barack Obama referenced the case on Friday, saying, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

Protesters were encouraged to call Gov. Rick Scott's office. While Scott appointed a special prosecutor to the Martin case, many in the crowd said they worried that the ineptness of Sanford police might have guaranteed Zimmerman would never be charged.

"God wants this to be brought out," said Krystal Bowens, one of the organizers. "He wants justice. … The truth will come out. I know it."

Tonya Wideman, 47, of Tampa held a sign that said, "Please don't kill my son." Her T-shirt was emblazoned, "Florida's Free Monsters." Below were pictures of Zimmerman and Casey Anthony, who was acquitted last year in the death of her 2-year-old daughter.

Chinonye Umunnah, 32, of Gibsonton said Facebook empowers communities large and small. King, she said, accomplished so much before his 1968 death. But she tried to imagine what he might have accomplished with a tool like Facebook.

"It would have been amazing," she said.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

Uhuru to meet today

The International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement will host a community meeting for Trayvon Martin at 4 p.m. today at the Uhuru House at 1245 18th Ave. S in St. Petersburg. Organizers will discuss plans for a St. Petersburg rally to be held at 11 a.m. Saturday. For more information, call (727) 821-6620.

Tampa rally for slain teen draws hundreds 03/24/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 24, 2012 10:33pm]
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