SANFORD, Fla. — Church-goers in cities across the nation traded their Sunday best for hoodies, showing their support for 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was wearing a hoodie when he was shot and killed last month in Florida by a neighborhood watch captain.
“If hoodies make you a suspect, then all of us are suspects,” said one church-goer.
In Baltimore, two young men sat on the altar at Empowerment Temple AME Church wearing hooded sweatshirts with bags of skittle and ice tea at their feet. These were the only items found on Martin the day he was killed.
“How dare they say a hood was the cause for suspicion to be cast on an innocent young man when my ancestors were beaten, killed and lynched at the hands of a hooded coward clan,” said another hooded protester. Click here for pictures of the hoodie church services.
Last week, President Obama recognized the outpouring for Martin and his surviving family.
Martin was killed February 26 as he walked back to his father’s fiancee’s house in Sanford, Florida, after a trip to the convenience store. Police say he was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who says he was acting in self-defense.
Zimmerman has not been charged.
The case has sparked a national debate over the Florida law and concerns about racial profiling. Martin was black and Zimmerman is white Hispanic. Zimmerman said he was driving in his gated community when he saw Martin walking and called 911 to report a suspicious person.
Zimmerman told the dispatcher he was following the boy, but the dispatcher told him that wasn’t necessary. Moments later, several neighbors called 911 to report a commotion outside, and police arrived to find Martin dead of a gunshot wound.
The Sanford Police Department said officers were prohibited from arresting Zimmerman the night of the shooting because physical evidence and testimony supported his claim that he acted in self-defense in accordance with Florida law. The police department gave the explanation to City Manager Norton Bonaparte, who included it in a letter to the community about the case, posted on the city’s website.
Craig Sonner, an attorney advising Zimmerman, says his client was injured that night and went to the hospital with a broken nose and a serious cut on the back of his head.
Sanford police said Zimmerman did not indicate a chase, telling them instead that “he had lost sight of Trayvon and was returning to his truck to meet the police officer when he says he was attacked by Trayvon,” the police said in the letter posted by Bonaparte.
Daryl Parks, an attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin, told board members of the National Association of Black Journalists that there is evidence that the Twin Lakes homeowners’ association told residents who saw suspicious activity to call George Zimmerman if they could not contact the police, according to an NABJ statement.
The Martin family plans to pursue a civil case against the homeowners’ association, Parks said.
“In a nutshell, I think this case is not being handled properly — that is why we have so many protests,” Ron Campbell said after a demonstration in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “It was a senseless situation.”
“We are doing this not for show, but to send a message that all humanity is sacred. And by saying ALL, we are including African American boys and girls, and men and women who reserve the right to wear a hoodie in the rain and not be racially profiled and killed because bigots think that their appearance is suspicious, or threatening,” the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock said in a statement posted on Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church website.
A handful of members from the New Black Panther Party rallied in Sanford, Fla. on Saturday and offered a $10,000 reward for Zimmerman’s “capture.”
“It’s time for us, as black men, to take justice in our own hands. If you won’t give us justice, we will have to take justice,” said Florida organizer Mikhail Muhammad. “An eye for an eye. A life for a life.”
The city of Sanford responded to the bounty offer by calling for “calm heads and no vigilante justice.”
“In my legal opinion, that’s not really applicable to this case. The statute on ‘stand your ground’ is primarily when you’re in your house,” said Craig Sonner, Zimmerman’s attorney.
“This is self-defense, and that’s been around for forever — that you have a right to defend yourself. So the next issue (that) is going to come up is, was he justified in using the amount of force he did?”
The 2005 law allows people to use deadly force anywhere they have a right to be if they have reasonable fear an assailant could seriously harm them or someone else.
It also eliminated a long-standing “duty to retreat” in the face of imminent harm, asserting that would-be crime victims have the right to “stand their ground” and “meet force with force” when attacked.
Rev. Al Sharpton said he doesn’t think Zimmerman was simply protecting himself.
“This is not about self-defense. This is about a man deciding somebody, based on who he was, was a suspect and that he would take matters into his own hands,” Sharpton told a crowd in New York on Saturday.
Sonner said he believes Zimmerman’s life is in danger and has advised him to keep a low profile.
“This case is spinning out of control,” Sonner said. “I hope there’s a way to rein things in so it doesn’t become an issue of a racial battle. I hope that things come back so that there can be a time for justice and for healing and not for just skipping the whole judicial process and going straight to sentencing.”
Monday evening, in Kansas City, supporters of Trayvon Martin and his family, plan to attend a rally at Mill Creek Park on the Country Club Plaza. Click here for that story.