A crowd of about 1,200 people converged on the Orange County Courthouse on Wednesday evening to honor Trayvon Martin days after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of the South Florida teen.
Waving signs and chanting, the protesters assembled at Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando for a “March Against Gun Violence.” Then they walked to the courthouse for an hourlong rally.
“What do we want?” they called out.
“Justice!” came the answer.
“When do we want it?”
Nia Thomas, 14, her four siblings and their mother were among the demonstrators who crowded into the courtyard in front of the courthouse.
“There’s nothing we can do to George Zimmerman,” said Nia, an Edgewater High School student. “But if this happens in the future, people will remember this, and it will change things. It won’t be so easy to get away with this.”
Nya Nelson, 15, attended with her mom, Adrienne Skinner, and a friend. Nya held a sign with the message, “Black teen walking. I am not a suspect.”
“It’s a scary thought that something like the Trayvon Martin situation could even happen,” Skinner said.
One of the littlest protesters, Isaiah Johnson, 2, lugged a sign as large as he was with the words: “Justice 4 Trayvon!”
“I’m around the same age as Trayvon,” said Isaiah’s mother, Stefani Johnson, 19, of Orlando. “It could have been me. It could have been my child.”
Protests turned violent in Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif., this week. But there were no reported problems at the Orlando march, police Master Sgt. Roger Brennan said.
Shayan Modarres, whose Orlando law firm sponsored the event, said beforehand that he was not worried about violence.
“If you really want to come out and honor Trayvon Martin and support this cause, then you will do so peacefully,” Modarres said. “There’s strength in numbers, and the numbers will hold much more weight than any act of violence could ever hold.”
There was a tense moment when a lone Zimmerman supporter held several laminated copies of the Orlando Sentinel front page that reported the not-guilty verdict. As the man declared Zimmerman’s innocence, a protester tried to light one of his signs on fire while others tried to grab the stack.
J. Willie David, president of the Florida Civil Rights Association, said he escorted the man safely away.
“He has a constitutional right [to express his feelings],” David said.
Speakers, including Natalie Jackson, an attorney for Trayvon’s parents, urged the crowd to vote, speak up against Florida’s “stand your ground” law and raise their voices for more fairness in the criminal-justice system.
“Everybody needs to get involved,” speaker Olumide Ajileye said. “This does not end today.”
After the rally, some of the marchers returned to Lake Eola Park for a silent vigil.
A Seminole County jury on Saturday found Neighborhood Watch volunteer Zimmerman, 29, not guilty of second-degree murder in the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon, a black youth who was visiting his father in Sanford. The verdict sparked outrage across the country.
Additional events planned this week include:
•Central Florida National Action Network will hold a community forum at 7 p.m. Thursday at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, 412 E. Kennedy Blvd. inEatonville to discuss the verdict and related issues.
•Orlando National Action Network is participating in peaceful protests in 100 cities across the country, including one at noon Saturday outside George C. Young Federal Building and Courthouse at 80 N. Hughey Ave. in Orlando. The Rev. Al Sharpton announced the movement — to press for federal charges in Trayvon’s shooting death — Tuesday outside the U.S. Department of Justice.
•Immediately after the Saturday protest, Orlando NAN will host an open forum at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist International Church at 535 W. Washington St. in Orlando featuring guest speakers Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, and Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando.
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