Justice for Trayvon Martin is theme of rally at Tampa church

Published Mar. 28, 2012

TAMPA — With nearly 1,000 people filling pews at the 34th Street Church of God on Tuesday night, the sanctuary was sweltering.

Still, the crowd took to its feet over and over again, chanting the night's rallying cry: "No justice, no peace."

They were there for Trayvon Martin, the unarmed, black 17-year-old who was shot and killed last month by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford.

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

Several of Martin's relatives who live in the Tampa area attended the event Tuesday that was organized by Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick.

"Our family never thought that the death of our loved one would ever explode like it did," said Carolyn Williams, a cousin of Martin's mother. "We know that justice will prevail."

Martin's parents were appearing Tuesday afternoon on Capitol Hill and did not attend the rally.

One after the other, a dozen community leaders stood up to speak. All had a similar message.

"This was a murder of a 17-year-old boy," said Carolyn Collins, president of the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP. "It's now time for us to stand our ground."

Iman Qasi Ahmed, of the Islamic Learning Center, likened Martin's death to the childhood story Little Red Riding Hood.

"He was just an innocent little boy, with a hood, who took a shortcut," Ahmed said. "A wolf took his life."

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller encouraged those in attendance to keep fighting for justice.

"We must continue to march, peacefully," he said. "We must continue to not let Trayvon's death be in vain."

Some also called for a repeal of the state's Stand Your Ground law that has allowed Zimmerman to remain free on his self-defense contention.

"The state of Florida has issued a license to kill," said Otis Anthony, a host on WMNF-FM 88.5. "We will not rest until Zimmerman is in jail."

Ignoring the heat, many draped hooded sweatshirts, like the one Martin was wearing, across their shoulders.

Some held signs featuring two things Martin was carrying when he was killed: Skittles and a can of iced tea.

At the end of the event, Reddick invited those in the audience to come forward and speak.

Iesha McDaniels, with her two sons and daughter in tow, took the microphone.

"These are my Trayvons," she said as she pointed to her children. "This really touches and moves me because it could be one of my sons."

Elliot Saunders already knows what it's like to lose a son. In 2005, his 18-year-old son was shot and killed. Authorities have not solved his killing.

"This hits home," he said. "We know exactly how Trayvon's family feels."

After his son's death, Saunders helped form Advocates for Safer Communities Inc. He came to the rally to offer his and his organization's support.

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"We are in this fight together," he said. "All we want out of this case is justice."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 661-2442.