Hundreds of people endured a record-breaking heat wave for a “Justice for Trayvon” rally in Hempstead on Saturday, a week after a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of murdering the unarmed black teenager.
The rally–led by the Nassau County chapter of civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN), community leaders and local clergy–was just one of more than 100 rallies held all across the country as a show of protest against the verdict.
“My name is Travis Nelson, and I could’ve been Trayvon Martin,” said an 8th grader who wrote a speech for the rally, echoing an essential theme thousands of people across the United States are declaring, including President Barack Obama.
Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watchman, was also found not guilty by a jury of manslaughter in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin after 16 hours of deliberations.
While Zimmerman has many supporters, his advocates are vastly overshadowed by defenders of Martin, his family and what he now represents.
With nearly all of the participants being church leaders or church members, the Hempstead rally was fueled by faith as well as a call to action.
Led by Elder Annette Dennis, the Nassau chapter president of the NAN and an opening prayer by Rev. Dr. Craig E. Wright of Calvary A.M.E Church in Glen Cove, the crowd of more than 300 people continuously shouted, “Amen!” along with “No justice, no peace!”
“We gather here to call attention to unjust laws like stand your ground and stop and frisk,” said Dennis. “And our response is, no justice, no peace!”
Most speakers criticized the justice system for not convicting Zimmerman. Minister Pepper Bonay-Martin, CEO of W.I.F.E. Ministries, listed names of people who were killed and, in the view of many, didn’t receive justice; including Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo, who were both gunned down by NYPD officers that were acquitted.
She then said to the crowd, “Now I ask you, is the system working?!” The overwhelming response was “No!”
Each speaker ended their message by specifically challenging attendees to not just react in the moment, but to keep fighting until there is change.
“Today I stand with my three minutes to challenge you; to get upset, get angry, get mad,” said Rev. Dr. William Earl Thomas of St. John Baptist Church in Lakeview. “But get mad enough to effect a movement.”