About 500 people at an impassioned rally in downtown Miami, part of a nationwide day of protest in response to the Trayvon Martin verdict, heard that the time has come for a new civil rights movement.
“This was our wake-up call,” said Bishop Victor Curry, a Baptist church official and South Florida president of the National Action Network, which also staged protests in New York, Washington, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, and more than 90 other cities around the United States.
“When President Obama was elected, we went to sleep,” Curry said, referring to Obama’s 2008 victory leading to his first term. “We started celebrating. We were optimistic that America had turned the racist corner.
“Because of this optimism many of us checked out. … We fell asleep when it came to social justice.”
Martin’s father, Tracy, stood nearby as Curry spoke. On July 13, George Zimmerman, part white and part Hispanic, was found not guilty in the February 2102 shooting death of unarmed Trayvon Martin, 17, who was black.
Curry and many other speakers at the rally said the immediate goal should be the repeal or altering of Florida’s 2005 “stand your ground” law, which was instrumental in what they consider an unjust verdict in the Martin case.
A juror in the case said last week that the judge’s use of language from the law in jury instructions left her and other jurors no choice but to find Zimmerman not guilty. The juror said she thought the law should be changed.
On Thursday, in a meeting with protesters occupying his office in Tallahassee, Gov. Rick Scott said he supported the law and will not work to repeal or alter it. Curry said that means African-Americans need to help defeat Scott, a Republican, in his re-election bid next year.
“The stand your ground law needs to be changed,” Curry said. “If he won’t change it, we’ll change governors.”
Curry said a series of protests and marches is planned in an effort to repeal stand your ground and correct racial inequities in the state’s criminal justice system.
He also said a national march on Washington will be staged in August, near the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1963 march on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
“We need to re-engage in social justice,” Curry said. “The reason we’re going to shout is that Trayvon can’t shout. I’m going to shout for Trayvon.”
When it was his turn to speak, Tracy Martin was brief.
“Trayvon was my son,” Martin said. “He was a loved child. He did nothing wrong. I vowed to Trayvon that day when he was laying in the casket that I would use every ounce of energy in my body to seek justice for him. I’ll continue to fight for Trayvon until the day I die. Not only will I fight for Trayvon, I’ll fight for your child as well.”’
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, said Trayvon Martin had started a “revolution” that has led the nation to investigate the lives of young black men and the dangers they face in U.S. society. She said that movement should also study “racist laws in the criminal justice system.”
The crowd at the rally was overwhelmingly black. Chants of “No justice, no peace” were heard sporadically. Many held signs. One of the signs read: “Martin Luther King’s dream is being erased.”
Alma Harrison, 64, of Miami, held a sign saying “Boycott Florida.” Since the verdict, social media have erupted with calls for an economic boycott of Florida.
Musician Stevie Wonder said he will not perform in any state that has a stand your ground law, including Florida. Martin Luther King III called for a boycott of Florida orange juice. Harrison said she would support a boycott of the state.
“You have hit people who support these terrible laws in their pocketbooks,” she said. “Let them lose some money for a while.”
Curry told the crowd he had heard the calls for a boycott of the state, but that his organization was not backing it at the moment.
“But everything is on the table,” he said.