NEW YORK — March 23, 2012. Over the years there have been many marches and rallies protesting the killings of young Black and Latino men — protests have gotten larger and more diverse, yet the murders continue.
Last month volunteer neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman chased and then shot an unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. To date, Zimmerman has not been arrested for the African-American teen — because Sanford, Florida police claim there was no evidence to contradict the gunman’s claim of self-defense. Zimmerman has gone into hiding and the FBI is investigating the case. Meanwhile, across America rallies in support of the family are being held. And activists, including Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are demanding answers — and justice.
Wednesday’s rally for the slain Trayvon Martin at Union Square Park was extraordinary on many levels. It was large, well over 5,000 people — and mainly organized by Facebook. It was incredibly diverse, probably the most diverse event this reporter has seen in many years. There were people of every race and ethnicity: Black, white, and Asian; Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists. There were people of every age: students, families, the elderly and everything in between. Some participants were dressed in jeans, “flower-power” sixties garb — and business suits.
OWS, now occupying Union Square Park, joined the rally.
The mood was a mixture of sadness and anger at the apparent cheapness of young Black life, and a determination that these killings must end. There was a strong sense of “oneness” as the crowd held up one finger and repeatedly chanted “We are one.” Trayvon Martin’s parents spoke at the gathering. His father said that his son was a good kid and should not have been killed and his mother, tears streaming down her face, thanked everyone for being there to support her son. She said that the family needed the support and that Trayvon was a son to all the people there, and that he represented their sons too. Protesters wept openly as she spoke.
When the Union Square rally ended an enormous mass of people flowed out of the park onto busy 14 Street, stopping traffic. Police deployed officers along three city blocks in an effort to get everyone out of the street and onto the sidewalk. Late arrivals told NLN that a large number of people attempting to get to the rally were told by by police that all subway trains were instructed not to stop at Union Square.
National Writers Union (UAW Local 1981) president Larry Goldbetter was one of many labor leaders circulating the Martin family’s petition demanding Zimmerman be prosecuted for murder. At press time the petition had 1,563,455 signatures.
Goldbetter told NLN that, “This is the kind of story that makes you want to scream. Trayvon, the Jewish kids in Toulouse, Rahmarly Graham in the Bronx, the 16 Afghan civilians, are all painful examples of the need to build a movement to smash racist terror in all its forms, whether state sponsored or from gutter racists like Zimmerman. That’s ‘self-defense!’”
Thomas Good contributed reporting to this story.