Thousands of Americans called for justice in rallies around the country Saturday in support of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida last month.
Protesters, mostly black, dressed like Martin – who wore a hoodie sweatshirt at the time of his death – gathered in several cities, including Washington, D.C.; Chicago, Ill.; Sanford, Fla.; Virginia Beach, Va.; and Columbia, S.C., on Saturday.
The rallies were to protest the Feb. 26 killing of Martin, who was unarmed, by a 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Hispanic. Martin, who was carrying a bag of Skittles candy and an iced tea, was returning to his father's fiancée's house in Sanford, Fla., from a convenience store at the time of the incident.
Many believe Martin's slaying was a possible hate crime, as the shooter is learnt to have made racially-charged statements on a 911 call right before the killing. Questions are also being raised why Zimmerman has not been arrested.
"We're standing up today because we are all Trayvon Martin," The Washington Post quoted the Rev. Graylan Hagler of Plymouth Congregational Church of Christ in Washington, D.C. as saying. Hagler was one of the hundreds of protesters who demonstrated at Freedom Plaza in Washington on Saturday.
"I'm here because I have children, I love children, I have grandchildren, I have nieces and nephews," Miami Herald quoted another protester, Rita Boston, a retiree from Fort Washington, Md., as saying. "I'm here to support life and justice. Right is right, wrong is wrong."
At Daley Plaza in Chicago, hundreds gathered Saturday afternoon, holding signs with slogans like, "It's not a crime to be black" and "Wearing a hoodie is not a crime."
"That could have been easily been my son," Reuters quoted Andre Robinson, a resident of Chicago, as saying. He added that Florida's gun laws, which allow people to use deadly force in self-defense, were too lax. The hoodie he wore carried the images of President Barack Obama and civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.
In Sanford, Fla., where the shooting took place, members of the New Black Panther Party got together and offered a $10,000 reward for Zimmerman's "capture," according to CNN. "It's time for us, as black men, to take justice in our own hands. If you won't give us justice, we will have to take justice," state organizer Mikhail Muhammad was quoted as saying. "An eye for an eye. A life for a life." The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the party as a "virulently racist and anti-Semitic organization."
The city of Sanford warned in a statement that "attempts by civilians to take any person into custody may result in criminal charges or unnecessary violence." The Sanford Police Department says Zimmerman wasn't arrested because evidence supports that he acted in self-defense.
Saturday was not the first day such rallies were held. Thousands gathered for the Million Hoodie March in Philadelphia on Friday night, and another rally was held in Sanford on Wednesday night. More rallies are scheduled to be held Sunday, and a protest is planned Monday in Sanford.
President Barack Obama has called for an investigation into "every aspect" of the case to determine what happened. "I can only imagine what these parents are going through," the president told reporters at the White House Rose Garden. "When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in American should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this."
Obama also said, "You know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."
Meanwhile, Daryl Parks, attorney for Martin's family approached board members of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), saying they had proof that the homeowner's association of Twin Lakes had asked residents to call Zimmerman, and not the police, if they saw suspicious activity.