Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dueling rallies in St. Pete call for justice in Trayvon Martin case

Posted By on Sat, Mar 31, 2012 at 3:39 PM

As a crowd estimated to be around 1,000 people gathered in Sanford on Saturday demanding the arrest of Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, two smaller rallies took place in St. Petersburg to call for that same action.

Shortly before 11:00 a.m. across the street from the Poynter Institute on Third Street South, approximately 100 people began marching north towards downtown in a rally led by veteran civil rights activist Sevell Brown with the National Christian League of Councils.

Brown said Trayvon Martin's death has mobilized more moral outrage regarding the death of a black teenage since Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi at the age of 14 after reportedly flirting with a white woman.

"It demonstrates that all these years later, even with a black president, you still have pervasive racism, pervasive cultural biases and people who are locked into that warped zone," Brown said moments before the march began, ultimately concluding at Spa Beach Park.

St. Petersburg City Councilman Charlie Gerdes met with rally participants before they marched along the waterfront. Gerdes said he had a hard time stomaching the desire by some people to try to trash Trayvon Martin's reputation over the past week, referring to photos of the 17-year-old looking more intimidating than the first photos that filled the television airwaves after his death made national news.

"I'll tell you what. I've got four kids. You go look at their Facebook pages, there's some stuff on there where they're making intimidating faces," Gerdes said. "That's what kids do. It's just nuts to me to try take one picture and say 'Oh, this was a bad kid' from one picture. This was a kid walking back to the store. It's crazy."

Kevin Johnson was wearing what has become almost ubiquitous garb at rallies in support of Trayvon Martin and his family: a hoodie, along with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. He said he has a Masters Degree, but as a black man wearing a hoodie, nobody would ever assume that about him.

Wendell Wilson, 54, said it shouldn't take large crowds gathered in the Tampa Bay area, Sanford, or anywhere else in the nation for the Sanford Police Department to realize that they made a mistake in not apprehending Zimmerman, who has had family members fill the broadcast and cable television airwaves in the past week in describing a violent situation where George Zimmerman had to somehow shoot Martin or risk being killed himself.

Wilson also had a difficult time fathoming the power the gun lobby has in Florida to allow a man with a criminal past like Zimmerman to still be able to carry a gun, much less fire away as a Neighborhood Watchman.

"I’m not against guns for hunting, and of course, Tallahassee is a rural area...maybe they don't worry so much until it affects them, " Wilson told CL. "It might take generations before everyone has had an issue with someone being shot or being unduly impacted by guns," he said about the Florida Legislature's loose gun laws.

While that rally was taking place, the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement was gathering for their own march as they assembled in front of their headquarters on 18th Avenue South.

One of the activist group's leaders, Chimurenga Waller, said the Uhuru's protest was more than just about Trayvon, but for "our entire community." He then mentioned local law enforcement's shooting and killing of two black teens spanning back 16 years as a reason to protest - the two being TyRon Lewis and Jarrell Walker.

Lewis' death at the hands of a St. Pete police officer resulted in two nights of violence back in 1996, while Walker was shot and killed by a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy in 2004 in a drug raid. The 19-year-old Walker was shot after he refused to show his hands when ordered and searched for something under a couch. He did not have a gun on him.

"We look at it as beyond Trayvon Martin, before Trayvon Martin. We gotta get organized now to stop more Trayvon Martin's," Waller said.

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