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Hundreds rally for Trayvon Martin

The girl in braided pigtails, her bright eyes wandering, led the marchers up Third Street S in St. Petersburg. Shanyjah Williams, 6, wore pink shoes, pink leggings and a striped pink shirt. She held a sign, also pink, that was marked in black, capital letters: "ZIMMERMAN GUILTY OF MURDER."

Behind her, like thousands of people in Tampa, Miami, Atlanta, New York and beyond, a crowd of more than 50 protesters chanted in a rising pulse for justice and for change and for Trayvon Martin.

On July 13, in the late-night hours after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the teen's death, many expected immediate protests, even riots. But as law enforcement stood ready in Sanford, where the teen was killed, and Miami, where he was from, the streets remained still.

In the last week, though, voices — peaceful ones — have ascended through that still. Gatherings popped up in New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles, where just a sparse few were arrested. On Friday, in 18 minutes of startling personal reflection from the White House, President Barack Obama flatly told reporters: "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago."

Then, on Saturday, the burgeoning momentum manifested on both sides of Tampa Bay and across the country. Groups in dozens of cities gathered to demand justice for the teenager and a review of the controversial "stand your ground" laws.

At noon, more than 400 people gathered outside the Sam M. Gibbons Federal Courthouse in Tampa in response to the Rev. Al Sharpton's call for 100 cities to hold vigils. The events were meant to push the Department of Justice to pursue civil rights charges against Zimmerman.

The Tampa crowd was loud but peaceful, undeterred by a light rain that moved overhead around 1 p.m. Parents brought their children. Families stood together with signs that said "I Am Trayvon Martin" and "Justice or Just Us?"

In New York, hundreds of people — including music superstars Jay Z and Beyoncé, as well as Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton — gathered in the heat.

Fulton told the crowd she was determined to fight for societal and legal changes needed to ensure that black youths are no longer viewed with suspicion because of their skin color.

"I promise you," she told them, "I'm going to work for your children as well."

In Miami, Tracy Martin recalled promising his son, as he lay in a casket, that he would pursue justice.

"This could be any one of our children," he said. "Our mission now is to make sure that this doesn't happen to your child."

Much of the discourse since the verdict has focused on stand your ground laws, which exist in more than 20 states. They generally go beyond many older, traditional self-defense statutes by eliminating a person's duty to retreat in the face of a serious physical threat.

Zimmerman relied on a traditional self-defense argument and didn't invoke stand your ground, though the judge included a provision in instructions allowing jurors to consider it as a legitimate defense. Race also wasn't discussed in front of the jury, but the two topics came up throughout Saturday's gatherings.

At a rally in Cincinnati, Chris Donegan's 11-year-old son wore a black hoodie, as Martin did when he died.

"It's personal," Donegan said. "Anybody who is black with kids, Trayvon Martin became our son."

In Tampa, Angela Breuton, 42, of Brandon said racial profiling has touched her children, as it has so many others.

"It happens," she said, "but we don't talk about it."

When her family lived in Temple Terrace a few years ago, her sons, then aged 12 and 13, often walked from their home to a local rec center. The boys were stopped three times in four years, she said, because they fit the profile of someone whom law enforcement was pursuing.

"I'm glad there are people around the country," she continued, "saying enough is enough."

Earlier, amid a sticky St. Petersburg morning, nearly as many children as adults trekked from Poynter Park to Vinoy Park. Marvin Walker, 3, sat atop a stroller and gripped a can of Mug Root Beer. Taped to the front of his shirt was a sheet of paper reading: "Justice for Trayvon."

Jahron Williams, 13, walked behind his sister, Shanyjah. He wore a blue polo and a "Tapout" baseball cap. He had come out of hope that, maybe, Zimmerman would still be punished.

The group chanted that Gov. Rick Scott didn't care about their cause, that he had to go. They yelled that Martin could have been their son.

Passing drivers honked in support. A few onlookers joined the walk. Others scurried to the opposite side of the road.

As the crowd repeated "What do we want? — Justice," a man riding a recumbent bicycle slowed to listen.

"Bull s---," he yelled.

No one responded.

Just before, another man, his gold teeth shining behind his smile, pulled alongside on a scooter and asked a girl carrying a sign to hold it up for him.

"Stop the violence," he read to himself, squinting. "Pray for peace."

He nodded and sped away.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@tampabay.com.

Hundreds rally for Trayvon Martin 07/20/13 [Last modified: Sunday, July 21, 2013 12:14am]
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