Hundreds protested in New York on Sunday against the acquittal of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, a day after his trial for killing unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin ended in Florida.
Many who gathered in Union Square brandished signs bearing a portrait of Martin and some, despite the sweltering July heat, wore “hoodie” sweatshirts, as the 17-year-old did the night he was killed in February 2012.
“I am appalled,” said Carli VanVoorhis, a 21-year-old hairdresser.
“The man was armed, the kid was not, and the man with the gun got away,” she said. “If we say it was not a racial issue, we would be lying.”
The crowd — chanting “no justice, no peace” — was largely made up of black citizens, but there were whites and hispanics present as well.
One sign demanded to “Jail racist killers, not black youth,” while many others declared “We are all Trayvon. The whole damn system is guilty.”
“We have a big problem with race, and another problem is guns,” said one speaker, Rodney Rodriguez.
“If Zimmerman didn’t have a gun, he couldn’t have killed Trayvon Martin.”
Another protester, Derreck Wilson, 46, said the group had come “to say in a peaceful way why we are angry. We are angry, scared and anxious.”
“It’s cathartic,” he said.
“We all have the same desires. I want to be able to have my son to come home,” added Wilson, who came to the protest from the traditionally African-American neighborhood of Harlem.
Rhada Blank also came from Harlem with friends.
When the verdict was announced, she said she thought about leaving the United States permanently.
“I was sick to my stomach when I heard the verdict, I felt ashamed,” she said. “I don’t feel good about being American today. I think we have a lot of work to do.”
“As far as people think we’ve gone, with the decision of electing (President Barack) Obama, this verdict shows we haven’t moved beyond race,” said the former teacher who now writes for the theater.
“People have not moved beyond their fears,” she lamented. “That decision echoed what many people are feeling in that country. There is a fear of the black male.”
The case has, since the beginning pitted those who think the 29-year-old neighborhood watchman — son of a white father and a Peruvian mother — killed Martin in self-defense, and those who think it was a murder sparked by racist assumptions.
The killing has also resonated with those who call for stricter gun laws, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who issued a statement Sunday against what he called “shoot-first laws.”
“Sadly, all the facts in this tragic case will probably never be known. But one fact has long been crystal clear: ‘shoot first’ laws like those in Florida can inspire dangerous vigilantism and protect those who act recklessly with guns,” Bloomberg said, reiterating his calls for eliminating them.
“The tragic death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed child attempting to walk home from the store, will continue to drive our efforts,” Bloomberg added.