Demonstrators symbolically wearing hoodies gathered in New York and Florida on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, reviving a national discussion on gun laws and racial profiling.
Actor Jamie Foxx joined Martin’s parents and several hundred protesters for a candlelight vigil in New York City’s Union Square, while a smaller crowd estimated at 110 to 125 met at a park in the Florida town where Martin died, vowing to continue to agitate for an end to racial discrimination.
“We want you know we love you and we won’t leave you,” Foxx told Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, in New York.
Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot and killed Martin, 17, in the Orlando suburb of Sanford on Feb. 26, 2012, and initially went free based on his claims of self defence. Then a national outcry forced the city’s police chief to resign and the governor to appoint a special prosecutor.
Zimmerman now faces second-degree murder charges and a June trial. He has maintained his innocence, and supporters say he has been unfairly tainted as racist, noting the neighbourhood had been hit by a wave of break-ins and that Zimmerman is of mixed race - his father is white and his mother Afro-Peruvian.
In Sanford, the case triggered deep emotions, and protesters staged a candlelight vigil and moment of silence at 7:15 p.m., the time Martin was killed, at Fort Mellon Park.
“There are no excuses for violence against our children. Let us take the tragedy of Trayvon’s death and use it for good,” said organizer Geri Hepburn, a white parent of a teenage son who became politically active as a result of the shooting.
The crowd was small compared to the thousands who filled the same park at the apex of public outrage of the killing last year, when the story dominated national news for weeks.
In New York, demonstrators recreated the “Million Hoodie March” of last year, when people wore hooded sweatshirts in the style worn by Martin the night of his death, when Zimmerman called police to report a suspicious looking person in his gated neighbourhood and defied a police admonishment not to follow him.
Martin was on his way home to the house of his father’s girlfriend, and the hoodie became a symbol of what critics considered racial profiling.
“We are all Trayvon Martin,” demonstrators chanted at Tuesday’s vigil.
James Flood, 33, a black bartender and screenwriter, said he was constantly the victim of racial profiling and wanted better for his 11-year-old son.
“My skin colour cannot change no matter how much money I make. I still get profiled,” Flood said. “It has to stop.”
Zimmerman, 29, who was released on bail, remained out of sight on the anniversary.
Thrust into the national spotlight, Martin’s grieving parents, Fulton and father Tracy Martin, have become national advocates for stricter gun control laws and critics of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
The law, passed in 2005, allows people to use lethal force in self defence if they are in fear of serious bodily harm. More than 20 states have since passed similar laws.
Police cited that law in initially declining to arrest Zimmerman, which sparked celebrity protests and popular demonstrations across the country, turning the case into international story.
Zimmerman’s attorney plans to invoke the Stand Your Ground law at an April 29 hearing at which a Florida judge could determine if the law applied to Zimmerman, possibly granting him immunity and averting a criminal trial. =