Demonstrators at Freedom Plaza rally in memory of Trayvon Martin

As the rain trickled down on Freedom Plaza on Saturday afternoon, young men pulled their hoodies up to cover their heads.

“I am Trayvon Martin,” the young men chanted.

They gathered in memory of Martin, whose death at the hands of a neighborhood watch volunteer has stirred the passions of the nation, launched federal and state investigations, and fueled calls for justice in rallies across the country.

They were young men like Darryl Jackson, 15, of Largo, who said after the event that he came with his mother, Elisa, because “it could have been me.”

Martin, a black Florida teenager, was fatally shot last month as he walked back from a convenience store toward a home in a gated community while wearing a hoodie to cover his head from the rain.

“We’re standing up today because we are all Trayvon Martin,” said the Rev. Graylan Hagler of Plymouth Congregational Church of Christ in the District.

George Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Hispanic, said he killed the 17-year-old in self-defense. He has not been arrested. Martin, who was unarmed, was carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea.

“We want to get to the bottom of this,” comedian and activist Dick Gregory told the crowd of nearly 1,500 people at Freedom Plaza.

Hoodie-clad protesters carried placards with Martin’s image and signs that read: “No Justice, No Peace” and “Justice For Trayvon.” Others held bags of Skittles above their heads, chanting “Skittles and tea are not suspicious to me.”

Similar rallies have taken place in major cities across the country.

On Friday night, thousands participated in the Million Hoodie March in Philadelphia, and thousands rallied on Wednesday night in Sanford, Fla., the town where Martin was killed.

Many demonstrators Saturday wore black and hoodies, clothes similar to what Martin wore the day he was killed. Zimmerman, 28, followed Martin through the gated community and told a 911 operator that the teenager looked suspicious. The 911 operator directed Zimmerman not to pursue the teen.

Elisa Jackson said she was compelled to participate in Saturday’s event. “I don’t want to wait until it happens to my son, because Trayvon Martin is my son,” she said. “I had to take a stand.”

Radio host Joe Madison said Martin’s shooting “is nothing but a 21st-century Emmett Till.” He called for a national hoodie day April 10, when the grand jury is scheduled to meet in the case.

Some speakers used the rally as an opportunity to encourage the protesters to be more active in their communities and less apathetic.

“This isn’t just about today,” said the Rev. Tony Lee, pastor of Community of Hope African Methodist Episcopal Church in Temple Hills. “If this stops today, it doesn’t mean anything.”

Another community activist said he wanted to see the “same indignation” over black-on-black crime, a suggestion that resulted in huge applause from the crowd.

Organizers of the rally said they hoped it offered support to the Martin family and prods Florida authorities to prosecute Zimmerman.

“We want Zimmerman prosecuted [and for the case to be] handled in a thorough and impartial manner,” said Heather Raspberry of the District, who helped organize the event using Facebook and Twitter. “We just want justice for Trayvon Martin.”

Some of the speakers echoed the words of President Obama, who weighed in on the incident Friday, speaking about it from a personal standpoint.

“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Obama said from the Rose Garden. “When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.”

Obama did not address local law enforcement’s efforts or call for Zimmerman’s arrest. Instead, he directed his comments to Martin’s parents, saying they “are right to expect that all of us, as Americans, are going to treat this with the seriousness it deserves.”

Millions of people have taken to social media in support of Martin, posting pictures of themselves wearing hoodies and asking “Do I look suspicious?” and adding pictures of Martin on Facebook and Twitter pages.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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