Saturday, June 23, 2018
Public safety

Two marches in St. Petersburg call for justice for Trayvon Martin

ST. PETERSBURG — Taurean Wong has rallied for immigration reform, protested against community violence and promoted women's rights.

But for the 28-year-old community college student, the case of Trayvon Martin has never been more important. Or more personal.

"After the shock of hearing what happened, it was fear that set in," said Wong, who lives in Brandon and also is a consultant for Community Tampa Bay. "I've been followed before. I wear hoodies. I walk down the street with candy in my pocket. I do those things all the time."

Wong was one of about 200 who marched and rallied at two events Saturday in downtown St. Petersburg in honor of Martin, the 17-year-old shot and killed in February by crime watch volunteer George Zimmerman in a gated Sanford community.

Police in Sanford said Zimmerman confronted and shot the hoodie-wearing black teenager, who was walking home from a store with a bag of Skittles and iced tea, after calling 911 to report a suspicious person in the neighborhood.

State and federal agencies are investigating; Zimmerman has not been charged.

The case has sparked a national debate and protests across the country, including in Tampa and other Florida cities. But Saturday's events were the first in St. Petersburg.

At the "I Am Trayvon March for Justice," hosted by the National Christian League of Councils, a large and diverse group of protesters started from a spot near the old Salvador Dalí museum. They went past the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, past Publix and past diners and shoppers along Beach Drive.

As they marched, they chanted Martin's name and called out for justice.

St. Petersburg poet Ramona Bethke, 54, wore a white T-shirt with the words "I am Trayvon's mother," scrawled on both sides. Many others had on hoodies.

"If I wasn't sitting here eating, I would have joined them," said Bob Horton, 62, who, along with his wife, Pat, and several friends, was enjoying brunch downtown at Cassis American Brasserie when the march went by.

The Hortons said they've been keeping up with news about the case.

"I think it's a good thing to protest," Pat Horton, 63, said. "I know one thing. If it were the other way around, he'd (Martin) already be in jail."

A few miles away, another group was rallying at City Hall. That effort, organized by the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, also included a march through downtown streets. Organizers said they wanted more than just Zimmerman's arrest; they said they also are calling for African people around the globe to unite and organize.

National Christian League of Councils organizer Sevell Brown said that he has been involved in civil rights for 30 years, and that the Martin case has stirred the nation in a way similar to the 1955 murder of Emmett Till that mobilized the civil rights movement.

"This injustice is so obvious that it is unconscionable," Brown said. "That's why we see this outrage that is touching St. Petersburg, Tampa, Jacksonville. … It has touched everybody."

After the march, Brown invited people to speak on a stage set up at Spa Beach Park near the Pier.

"One way or another, justice will prevail," LaShawn Crawford told the crowd.

Three years ago this week, Crawford's cousin, 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton, was killed at her home in a drive-by shooting that, like the Martin case, shocked the community. The young men accused of killing Paris were sentenced to prison last year.

Crawford told the crowd not to give up, to remain peaceful, to remain patient.

"Just as we had justice for baby Paris, we will get justice for Trayvon Martin and his family," she said.

Another Martin rally and a carwash are scheduled from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at the Shell gas station at 1800 34th St. S. Proceeds will go to Martin's family.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

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