Thousands of protesters gathered in a downtown bayfront park on Sunday demanding the arrest of the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, in central Florida a month ago.
Civil rights leaders were joined by local politicians, pastors and Martin’s parents, who made their first major public appearance in their hometown since last month.
Sunday’s protest came a day after one of the largest demonstrations in Sanford, the central Florida town where Martin was killed.
A crowd of about 5,000 gathered in an amphitheater with a “Justice for Trayvon” poster behind the stage to hear speeches from civil rights leaders reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, as well as Martin’s parents. Grammy Award-winning singers Chaka Khan and Betty Wright also attended.
Sharpton received a standing ovation when he called for the arrest of George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Martin with a semiautomatic handgun.
“I didn’t come to Florida ... to convict Zimmerman. I didn’t come to try Zimmerman,” he said after questioning why police were not able to find probable cause to make an arrest in the shooting and let the courts decide if a crime had been committed.
“I came to say, what is good for one, is good for all. Zimmerman, tell it to the judge,” he said. “We cannot live in a nation where some of us go and are arrested on probable cause, and others are released because they told an improbable story.”
Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, was in his car about to drive to a store on Feb. 26, when he noticed Martin.
Zimmerman called 911 to report that Martin was wearing a hoodie sweatshirt and looked “suspicious” and followed him against the dispatcher’s advice.
Martin was walking back to his father’s fiance’s home after buying candy and iced tea.
Zimmerman later told police that he was walking back to his vehicle when Martin attacked him and that he fired his weapon in self-defense after he was punched on the nose, knocked down and had his head slammed against a sidewalk.
Police refused to arrest Zimmerman, citing Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows the use of lethal force outside the home when a reasonable threat is perceived.
The case has sparked a public outcry from celebrities, politicians, civil rights activists and ordinary citizens who believe Zimmerman judged Martin to be suspicious because of his skin color and that he should have been arrested for the shooting.
More than 2 million people have signed a petition on Change.org to demand justice in the case.
US President Barack Obama weighed in on the matter, -comparing Martin to a son he might have had and calling for “soul searching” over how the incident occurred.
A special state prosecutor is examining the case and could decide as soon as this week whether charges should be filed. Federal investigators are looking into charges of racial bias.