Still Fighting For All the Trayvons

Eric Ruder Jul 16, 2013

The acquittal of George Zimmerman in last year's murder of Trayvon Martin shocked people across the U.S., prompting grief and anger–and a renewed sense of determination to fight racism and violence.

As news of the verdict spread on the evening of Saturday, July 13, people took to the streets to protest this latest miscarriage of justice suffered by Martin's family. At events large and small throughout the weekend, people consoled one another, vented their anger and started talking about how to step up the struggle for Trayvon and all the other victims of the racist criminal justice system.

— In New York City, more than 1,000 protesters rallied at New York's Union Square on Sunday evening. The crowd ultimately grew to 10,000 as demonstrators marched to Times Square and joined other protests from elsewhere in the city. There were actions held throughout the day, with hundreds gathering in Harlem, Brooklyn's Borough Hall and earlier in Union Square.

Protesters held handmade placards in solidarity with Trayvon Martin and other victims of police and vigilante violence, while expressing anger with the U.S. justice system. Many connected Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law with policies such as the NYPD's "stop-and-frisk," which also disproportionately affect communities of color. "There's so much discretion with these laws so that racism is able to seep in," said Crystal Watkins, a resident of Harlem.

The crowd was a diverse patchwork of people mobilized by various grassroots organizations, as well as individuals whose anger at the jury's decision compelled them to participate. "To show solidarity and love from Black Canadians to Black Americans," said Sasha Rael about her decision to attend the protest. "America is supposed to be the 'land of the free' and 'home of the brave,' but there's only justice for white people…If we don't have justice for all, we can't have freedom."

At Union Square, several activists and local politicians addressed the crowd. The demonstration then embarked on a four-mile, circuitous march from Union Square to Times Square. It was met with gestures of support on every corner. Traffic was forced to a standstill as the thousands-strong column passed, flanked by lines of police. Drivers honked in support and extended raised fists outside of windows.

Chants rose up in waves: "We are all Trayvon Martin" and "Hey hey, ho ho, the new Jim Crow has got to go!" Another popular chant involved call-and-response: "Zimmerman: Guilty! Stand your ground: Guilty! Stop and frisk: Guilty! This racist system: Guilty!"

"I think when things like this happen, people sometimes just sit back, but people's voices need to be heard," said marcher Sabir Saadia. "The more people, the better. This can't happen again."

At Times Square, several speakers emerged from the mass of protesters, using the mic-check method that emerged during Occupy Wall Street so their voices could be heard by the entire crowd. At one point, a spontaneous sit-down in the square spurred the police to begin moving in. Some then called for the demonstration to move uptown "to where they're killing us."

Before the rally left Times Square for Harlem, a woman stood up during the open mic and declared: "We're here to make sure Black lives have value. We're not okay with Black children being killed."

— In Atlanta, about 800 demonstrators gathered Sunday evening for a rally and march. The event drew a multiracial but largely African American crowd, including people of all ages–from families with young children to elderly residents who spoke of their past experiences marching in the civil rights movement.

Two other protests also took place. The previous night, a group of about 50 protesters gathered for an impromptu, late-night march beginning at Troy Davis Park (also known as Woodruff Park)–the site of the Occupy Atlanta protests in 2011. And on Sunday afternoon, another group of about 100 demonstrators marched from the Five Points MARTA station to Centennial Olympic Park.

The Sunday evening protest–organized largely through social media and word of mouth–began with a rally and speak-out in West End Park. As the crowd massed in the park, organizers passed a bullhorn to neighborhood residents and activists. The demonstrators delivered a steady stream of impromptu speeches decrying Zimmerman's acquittal and calling for a movement to resist racism.

Several speakers told powerful stories about the degrading and oppressive role played by racism in their daily lives. One woman recounted how her husband, who is a prisoner in the state of Georgia, took part in a 43-day hunger strike in opposition to the prison's policy of holding inmates in continuous solitary confinement. A number of other speakers emphasized the importance of building solidarity within Black communities in order to resist the ongoing rollback of the gains of the civil rights movement.

After about an hour in the park, the crowd poured onto the streets for a three-mile march to the city's downtown business district. Chanting "No justice, no peace, let's take it to the streets" and "Justice for Trayvon," the march received enthusiastic honks from passing motorists as it marched down a business corridor in the heart of Atlanta's Black community. In several cases, workers at adjacent fast food restaurants and other establishments stepped outside to chant along with the passing protesters.

After braving a midsummer downpour halfway through the march, the protest began to pick up steam once again when the rain cleared and the crowd marched into the heart of the city. Protesters massed in front of CNN's corporate offices before finishing with a rally that halted the flow of traffic through the city's downtown business district. The final order ofo business for activists was to plan for more protests, including one the next night.

— In California's Bay Area, a multiracial crowd of about 700 people rallied in the renamed Oscar Grant Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall while a similar-sized demonstration took place at San Francisco's Union Square.

"I am ashamed to live in a country where this kind of racism is possible, but I am proud to live in a place where this many people come out to show their opposition to it," said Deborah Goldsmith, a professor at City College of San Francisco and member of the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, to the cheering crowd in Oakland.

Chanting, "Protect and serve, that's a lie, they don't care if Black kids die!" protesters marched from City Hall to the historically African American neighborhoods in West Oakland–along the same routes that other marches have passed for Oscar Grant, Alan Blueford and the many other victims of racist police murder in Oakland.

Many people joined in the march or waved and cheered as it passed by, including a soccer team that stopped play to join in chants for Trayvon. Members of the University of California (UC)-Berkeley and Laney College Black Student Unions (BSU) turned out in force and helped to lead the march. One speaker from the UC Berkeley BSU challenged Black politicians and clergy to speak up, and emphasized the need for the African American community to overcome division and demoralization so that it can organize in its own name.

As the march returned to Oscar Grant Plaza, hundreds blocked the main intersection at 14th and Broadway and held a speak out to chants of "Whose streets? Trayvon's streets!" As this report was being written, another rally and march was taking place in Oakland.

— In Portland, Ore., about 1,000 people gathered in Peninsula Park–a much larger number than mobilized last year to call for Zimmerman to be charged with Trayvon's murder–to express their sorrow and their anger about the acquittal. A speak-out was led by the Portland chapter of the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, during which more than 25 people expressed frustration at the enduring racism exposed by Zimmerman's acquittal.

Speakers condemned the way that "justice" is constrained by racism and addressed the need to fight a system that lets Zimmerman walk free after murdering a child while another Floridian, Marissa Alexander, received 20 years for firing a warning shot to defend herself from an abusive husband.

Many also called on those in attendance to get involved with ongoing organizing efforts, especially because Portland has more than her fair share of Trayvon Martins, including Kendra James, James Perez, Keaton Otis and Aaron Campbell.

After the speak-out, without a permit or any police presence, the group took to the streets and marched a short stretch of bustling Killingsworth Street, which has been targeted by the police as a "hot spot" for gang crime and where 300 arrests occurred within the span of a month in an effort to "clean up the streets."

— In Detroit, more than 400 people rallied Sunday at a protest organized by the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality and International Socialist Organization. After listening to several speakers, protesters took control of the streets as they marched to the Patrick V. McNamara Federal Building.

Speakers included Mike Hamlin, co-founder of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers; Ron Scott of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality; and Mertilla Jones, the grandmother of Aiyana Jones, who was killed in her sleep by Detroit police three years ago.

Hamlin explained the urgent need for a new civil rights movement, and that it will have to face down state repression. "We can be nonviolent, but our enemies will not be," he warned.

Jones, whose granddaughter Aiyana would have been 11 this July, struggled to hold back her tears. "I'm out here to fight any way I can for the other Aiyanas to come, because it isn't stopping at my grandbaby," she said. "I'm out here for the fight. I'm out here for the long run."

— In Charlotte, N.C., some 400 community members gathered downtown in Marshall Park. The largely Black and Brown crowd wore black clothes and hoodies, and carried signs with the slogan "#JusticeforTrayvon." Poets, singers, mothers and self-described brothers took turns speaking to the crowd.

Throughout the rally, there were two constants: love and rain. Every person who rose to speak said this should be a time of understanding, not intolerance; a time of acceptance, not violence. The rain poured all day–it did not stop for us, but we did not stop for it either. Though wearing a hoodie in 85 degree weather can be difficult, I felt no heat because the women and men who spoke sent chills running up and down my body.

— In Los Angeles, some 400 peple gathered in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Leimert Park and then marched north on Crenshaw Boulevard, quickly ballooning to more than 1,000. Meanwhile, 200 more people gathered at Mariachi Plaza in the largely Latino area of East LA in an inspiring display of multiracial solidarity.

As the march from Leimert Park approached the I-10 freeway, many demonstrators walked down the onramp and shut down traffic in both directions. Police began arriving in large numbers. When most of the cops redeployed to the freeway, some 400 resumed marching north on Crenshaw in the hopes of shutting down Wilshire Boulevard.

The police realized what was happening and tried to block the march, so people headed east through side streets. As police tried to herd protesters into a parking lot next to Washington Market, police to the north began firing into the crowd with rubber bullets and/or beanbags, dispersing the crowd amidst screams and confusion.

One contributor to this story was hit by one of the rounds. "Everyone screamed and ran in all directions," said Ed Pitzer. "As I was running, I got shot in the back. The woman running in front of me was carrying what I'd judge to be a one-year-old. If it hadn't hit me, she would have been hit."

Pitzer continued: "This was a peaceful demonstration. It's true we had shut down some streets, including the freeway and the metro rail line. But that's civil disobedience, not violence. I was out there from 3 p.m. on and never saw any violent protester."

— In Chicago, a few hundred people gathered downtown at Daley Plaza for a march and speak-out. As the demonstrators wended their way through crowded downtown streets under close police watch, cars honked and passersby waved in support. Chanting, "Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, not one more!" the march had an air of somber but fierce determination.

During the speak-out, Frankiem Mitchell, an activist and poet, took the mic to share his grief and the urgency he feels to do something in the wake of the verdict:

I'm from the projects. I'm alive. But I fear for my life every summer…I should not have to worry about being stopped by the police being innocent, going to 7-11 to get something to drink…Trayvon Martin woke us all up, but it's more than Trayvon Martin, it's about the value of brown bodies, it's about the value of people. This is about more than Black, this is about more than color, this is about the direction of humanity…

I lost 14 people in two years, 14 people I went to high school with, played basketball with, helped with their homework. I wrote an obituary for a friend I played basketball with in high school last month. And I had to edit everybody's testimonies because they didn't know how to write correct English…

Martin Luther King didn't get killed because he had a dream, he got killed because he influenced people like you to believe in his dream. If you believe in a dream, you can't be stopped.

Jermaine Maxwell, a 41-year-old carpet installer, said in an interview that he was at his first protest ever. "I came to the realization that I can't depend on the next person to come along and make the changes that need to happen, but I have to stand up and make those changes myself," he said. "The more people realize that, the more power we'll have to make change."

After the protest, more than 100 people attended a speak-out and town hall meeting at Young Chicago Authors, an organization that creates spaces to foster young people's creativity and performance. Amid sobs, a stream of young authors and activists shared their thoughts, their pain, their anger. One read a poem she wrote after hearing that Zimmerman's attorneys argued that Trayvon was armed with a "deadly weapon" because he used the sidewalk to fight Zimmerman as the two wrestled. "Black boy touch turn anything weapon," she said to gasps from the crowd.

Another young person observed that Obama has relentlessly avoided embracing his own racial identity. "The most powerful man in the world is still afraid of being Black," she said. "So how is that supposed to make me feel?"

— In Washington, D.C., a crowd of about 100 formed at 6 p.m. Sunday evening and marched slowly northward through Malcolm X Park, gathering people as it went. In the middle of the park, people paused to hear speeches by activists from the National Black United Front-D.C., International Socialist Organization and other organizations. When one speaker asked, "Is this a moment or a movement?" the crowd replied, "Movement!"

After about an hour, the march started to move through the park and then headed toward Howard University to join up with a vigil there. The marchers chanted, "We won't forget Trayvon" and "We are unstoppable, another world is possible!" One side of the street was blocked all the way to the university as the march swelled to 500 or 600 people, collecting more along the way.

The night before, in the immediate aftermath of the verdict, activists in D.C. organized a midnight march via Facebook and Twitter. People marched on U Street NW, an area that is rapidly being gentrified and was the site of some of the riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The crowd swelled to about 250 as people came out of neighborhood bars to join the protest.

Using the Occupy mic check, marchers in the middle of an intersection denounced the notion that "walking while Black," as Trayvon was the night he was murdered, is somehow a suspicious act. "Welcome to the land of the free," said one activist ironically, continuing, "We are attacking people in Afghanistan, and we need to resist like the people in Afghanistan."

— In San Diego, several hundred people gathered Sunday near the City Heights police station, seething with frustration that yet another racially motivated attacker of a young Black man had gone free.

"The war on drugs is the new Jim Crow," Cecile Veillard told the crowd. "It has criminalized young Black men who have done nothing wrong." Veillard then pointed out that the profiling of "dangerous" young Black men has meant vastly disproportionate drug arrests of Black youth, even though rates of drug use are the same or greater among whites.

"I know what it feels like to lose someone," Shakina Ortega, widow of Victor Ortega who was murdered by San Diego Police in 2012, told the crowd. "I'm here, and my family is here with me. We're here for Trayvon."

— In Austin, Texas, 450 people rallied at the state Capitol building for Trayvon. After a short speaking program, the crowd took to the streets in an unpermitted march to the federal courthouse about 10 blocks away, chanting "Criminal justice, that's a lie, they don't care when Black kids die!" and "We want justice for Trayvon!"

The diverse crowd included many parents and children. At the Capitol, 9-year-old Journee Coleman described hearing a customer at a convenience store across from her house use violent and racist language against Black people. "We don't think it's okay that people can act that way in our community," she said.

At the park in front of the federal courthouse, a few dozen people spoke during an open mic, expressing a mix of sadness, frustration and anger about the verdict. But the most common sentiment was an overwhelming desire to fight back against daily racism and the criminal justice system. "I'm only 22," one young woman told the crowd. "I've never been to a protest or march in my life!"

After the speak-out, the crowd marched back to the Capitol chanting the whole way.

— In Seattle, 400 protesters came out to Westlake Park for an open mic featuring community members, the No New Jim Crow Campaign, the NAACP and others. Then marchers poured into the street through downtown Seattle, stopping traffic and walking between cars until they arrived at the federal courthouse. There, many speakers demanded that the Department of Justice file civil rights charges against Zimmerman.

Aaron Williams, senior pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church, called Martin a victim of racism and fear. "We should be raising Cain because if we don't, history has a way of repeating itself," said Williams. "There will be other young men who are pushed through the pipeline prison system if we don't raise Cain. There will be other issues of injustice in our society of we don't raise Cain."

— In Denver, several hundred activists and outraged community members gathered Sunday afternoon in City Park next to a monument of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to express their shock and disappointment at Zimmerman's acquittal. The crowd stood in solidarity with Trayvon's family as various community organizers related their experiences with racially motivated oppression in Denver.

Brother Jeff Fard, a historian and writer, described just two such incidents–the 2010 killing of Marvin Booker, a local preacher, by Denver police while he was in police custody, and the 2011 killing of Alonzo Ashley, who died after being Tasered by police at the Denver Zoo.

Terrance Roberts, activist and founder of the Prodigal Son Initiative, mocked Denver's reputation among affluent whites, saying, "It's so beautiful out here, it's so relaxed…if you're white." Rev. Tawana Davis expressed fear for her family after she heard the news. "I have an 18 year old son," she said, choking back tears. "And he has now become an endangered species here in the land of the free and the home of the brave."

— In Madison, Wis., the sun's searing heat seemed to match the anger of the 300-strong crowd gathered on the steps of the state Capitol building on Sunday.

But the 90-degree weather didn't deter the many protesters, who donned winter hoodies in solidarity with Trayvon. The diverse crowd of students, youth, local politicians, community organizers, activists and concerned citizens gathered to vent their emotions, ranging from sadness to frustration and rage. Their message was simple: Enough is enough.

Just as it seemed that the sun was taking its toll on the crowd, a group of high school students, almost all Black, from the Pre-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) program in Milwaukee arrived, marching down State Street to the Capitol and injecting new life into the rally.

Speakers repeatedly called the verdict a "travesty" and "atrocity," but there was something new in this protest. Over and over, the connection was made between the various struggles taking place in the country today. Opposing the racial oppression that denies quality education to Black children, for example, goes hand-in-hand with standing up against the class oppression that denies quality education to workers and the poor.

The same corrupt judicial system that allows a white man who kills an unarmed Black teenager to go free is the same judicial system that is incapable of bringing to justice the Wall Street bankers who destroyed the economy and wiped out the jobs, houses and livelihoods of poor people of all races and ethnicities. And the same laws that kept Black and white people from marrying each other 50 years ago are the same laws that deny marriage equality to LGBT couples across the country today.

— In Miami, a racially diverse crowd of more than 100 people attended a Sunday evening vigil for Trayvon at downtown Bayfront Park. From there, they marched to Freedom Tower, chanting "No justice, no peace!" Their signs read, "We are Trayvon Martin," "Children must have more rights than guns," "Stand for justice," and "You can't justify murder."

Because Trayvon was born, raised and attended high school in Miami, the sadness and anger expressed here were especially raw. Florida state Sen. Dwight Bullard was among those who addressed the crowd, and he pledged to work to advance racial justice in Tallahassee and called for "a groundswell of support." Several church groups and community groups also attended the vigil, and they gave out candles to the crowd.

Although rain started to fall on the vigil, people's spirits weren't dampened. There is a renewed awareness that a rebuilt civil rights movement is needed–to right systemic wrongs, not only in Florida, but across the nation.

— In Providence, R.I., 250 people filled the streets Sunday, marching down Broad Street surrounded by an intimidating number of police cars. But the resolve to protest the injustice of the verdict was stronger than the fear created by the police, and people from the surrounding community joined the march anyway.

When the march stopped in front of a police substation, an impromptu speak-out and open mic began. "I'm for Trayvon, but I'm also for my city and the kids on our streets," said one woman, a grandmother. "Sixteen- and 17-year-olds get stopped now for no reason." Shondell, a community advocate, added, "It's not fair that we're scared of these young men because of their skin color."

— In Houston, 250 gathered Sunday evening at Houston City Hall for a speak-out. A second rally, called by well-known Black activist Quanell X, was scheduled for Monday in the city's historically black Third Ward.

— In Rochester, N.Y., about 200 people attended a Sunday rally, and though many were established activists, more than half were new to such events. The main portion of the event was an open mic speak-out punctuated by people chanting, and afterwards people stood in clumps to discuss next steps and other pressing issues. Another protest was scheduled for July 15.

— In Philadelphia, after listening to several speeches, a crowd of 300 marched through downtown from Love Park to Independence Mall chanting, "No justice, no peace!" At Independence Mall, one person after another rose to speak out. "What happened to Philly education–we have to take it back," said a young man in a black hoodie who looked strikingly similar to Trayvon. Another man said, "How many of us African Americans have to be examples of this system? If it had been a white boy, it would have been a whole different ballgame."

Then the protesters marched back to Love Park, where 400 more people had gathered and were in the midst of another speak-out. "Dr. King had a dream, but you know what?" a young woman yelled into a bullhorn. "We're not at that mountaintop right now!" "This is an opportunity to unite people in a way that we haven't been united before," said Jon Rose in a video of the event posted by activist Suzie Subways. "I do think it speaks to issues concerning race, but also civil rights in this country, and justice for all."

Nearby, a group held a 17-hour vigil at a statue of 1970s police commissioner and mayor Frank Rizzo, who earned a reputation for being a racist "tough cop." Over the statue was a sign that read: "The system is still racist."

— In Burlington, Vt., more than 200 people attended a Sunday evening speak-out at Burlington City Hall. Many of the speakers related their anger at the verdict to the everyday racism in the so-called progressive state of Vermont.

Telling the crowd, "It's not just a southern thing, it's a local thing," an antiracist organizer reminded those gathered of last year's struggle against the school board's targeting of minority teachers as well as a recent report on the Burlington Police Department that exposed its pattern of racial profiling. A meeting was called for next week to form an antiracist coalition in Burlington.

— In Northampton, Mass., a diverse crowd of 200 people attended a protest in solidarity with Trayvon Martin and his family. The many speakers tapped into the outrage, sadness and determination of the moment.

— In Baltimore, more than 100 people rallied at the Inner Harbor in response to the verdict. Many made connections between Trayvon Martin and Baltimore resident Anthony Anderson, who was murdered by Baltimore police in 2012. Despite the blunt force trauma he suffered at the hands of three cops, the officers were never charged. Speakers also addressed the expansion of prisons in Baltimore and the racism that pervades the criminal justice system.

After the rally, protesters marched to City Hall, chanting "Trayvon today, your son tomorrow!"

— In Cincinnati, about 75 people came to a speak-out in support of justice for Trayvon. Twelve years ago, Timothy Thomas, a 19-year-old unarmed Black man, was killed after fleeing from a group of cops chasing him because of unresolved traffic tickets, and the city erupted in protest. Heavy-handed repression was the police response to the justified outpouring of rage.

A schoolteacher described how she went into her classroom each day, thinking about how her students are oppressed under the same system as Trayvon Martin. And she explained why she believed that Trayvon had a right to fight back against the aggression of George Zimmerman. To those who said that Trayvon should have run, she reminded the crowd about Timothy Thomas.

Mike Anderson, Lina Bartholomew, Katheryn Brooks, Brian Chidester, Jonathan Cunningham, Lily Hughes, Heather Kangas, Johnny Mao, Ben Miller-Jacobson, Dhruv Pathak, Haley Pessin, Matthew Pillischer, Ed Pitzer, Steve Ramey, Eric Rehder, Joel Reinstein, Gillian Russom, James Sacco, Michael Schwartz, Daniel Shippee, Ben Smith, Ben Stockwell, Benjamin Taylor, Brian Ward, Avery Wear and Camille White-Avian contributed to this article. First published at

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