Grief, outrage drive Raleigh rally for Trayvon Martin

akenney@newsobserver.comJuly 21, 2013 

— In a rally that jammed Martin Street and filled a downtown Baptist church, the death of Trayvon Martin and the freedom of George Zimmerman brought a rallying cry for broad social change Sunday.

Though Zimmerman’s verdict was settled eight days earlier – acquittal on all counts – speakers and protesters in Raleigh stoked outrage and looked to place their grief. Additional protests took place in dozens of other cities across the nation.

The march began in Moore Square, where a large crowd roared rapid chants for justice, jobs and voting rights. Some held signs with bitter, disappointed messages. One read, “It’s OK to kill a Negro in America.” The marchers were predominantly black, but not homogenous — a white man led chants of “Forward, together,” as the crowd streamed onto Martin Street after gathering at Moore Square.

They walked in a column up to 20 people wide that stretched for blocks from the skyscrapers of downtown Raleigh, past boarded-up cottages and pink-flowered trees. Children wove through the march on bicycles, and an older woman walked with stilted gait from her front porch to join the crowd.

“You can’t let it die. You can’t let it go,” said Jessica Yates, 18, as she walked down the middle of Martin Street. She held a sign that read “17 and unarmed,” a reference to Martin’s lack of a weapon when he was killed last year by a single shot from Zimmerman’s handgun.

Before the shooting, Zimmerman had followed Martin through a rainy night in Sanford, Fla., worried that the hoodie-wearing teenager, on his way back from a trip to the store, was casing the grounds of the Retreat at Twin Lakes. At trial, Zimmerman’s attorneys told jurors he acted in self defense, saying the teen had inflicted severe injury on the older man during a physical alteration.

Yates said the scenario felt familiar to her. The Raleigh teenager, set to pursue a career in education this fall at East Carolina University, said that she has been followed in stores. She said that a systemic suspicion of young black people makes a violent confrontation too likely. And unfair trials, argued her friend Madison Edwards, can further imbalance the outcomes.

“Heartbreak feels like rage”

The marchers filled Martin Street Baptist Church to capacity, packing pews and crowding aisles in dim purple light through stained-glass windows. The church has seats for 800 and was filled to capacity, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, with scores more waiting outside. Raleigh Police Department estimated the entire march at 800 people, while the NAACP put it at 3,000 or more.

One speaker, NCCU law professor Irving Joyner, cast “Stand Your Ground” laws as a racial response to the election of President Barack Obama, likening the new self-defense protocols to the stockpiling of guns after the 2008 election.

“We fought against these laws because we understood the consequences,” Joyner said, referring to a ramp-up of armed confrontations.

Ultimately, it was the Rev. William Barber II, head of the state NAACP, who brought forth from the crowd an emotional outpouring as thick as the humid air.

“Heartbreak feels like rage, and heartbreak feels like despair, and heartbreak feels like the death of the ‘audacity of hope,’” he said, calling for his audience to follow Trayvon Martin’s parents in hope and prayer. He warned of a broad push against civil rights, returning to the themes of the protest movement he’s helmed in North Carolina this year. Voting, he said, was the only answer.

Two Raleigh nurses stood front and center through it all, thrusting their fists and crying responses. They knew that the specifics of the fight that killed Trayvon Martin may never be resolved – but they said it was the unfair suspicion of a black teenager that led to the tragedy, and they feared the same would befall their own.

“My son is in Miami. My black son. He’s a black boy, with braids,” said Eanne Goodson. “So, is it sensitive to me? Yes.”

Kenney: 919-460-2608

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