Trayvon Martin: Crowd presses city council members to say they believe Zimmerman should be arrested

Mar 26, 2012

‘You are risking going down as the Birmingham and Selma of the 21st century,’ Al Sharpton tells Sanford

By Susan Jacobson, Orlando Sentinel

5:34 PM CDT, March 26, 2012


SANFORD – Speaker, one after the next, in a packed Sanford Civic Center, have pressed city council members to say – for the record – whether they believe George Zimmerman should be arrested for the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

“Go on the record today in support of the arrest of George Zimmerman,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League.

The Rev. Al Sharpton told Sanford leaders tonight that the city risked a reputation as a place where the civil rights of black people are trampled if it did not take action in the Trayvon Martin case.

“You are risking going down as the Birmingham and Selma of the 21st century,” Sharpton said at the Sanford Civic Center, which is packed with hundreds of people.

One by one, pastors, an attorney for Trayvon’s family, civil-rights leaders and Trayvon’s parents pleaded for justice – which, to them, means the arrest of George Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch coordinator who shot Trayvon to death Feb. 26 in Sanford.

“If a black vigilante shot a white child, he would be in jail right now,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said. “And maybe he should be.”

Jamal Bryant, a Baltimore pastor who has been in Central Florida preaching about the case, criticized the shooting investigation.

“It is obvious from an outside perspective that the Justice Department of Florida doesn’t realize how sick it is,” Bryant said.

Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, was forceful.

“We’re not asking for an eye for an eye. We’re asking for justice, justice, justice,” Tracy Martin said, pointing his finger for emphasis.

Trayvon’s mother, more soft-spoken, said her heart is broken.

“As a parent, you want some answers,” Sybrina Fulton said.

“Yes,” the crowd murmured.

“What is unnatural is for parents to bury their child,” Sharpton. Do the right thing. Do the right thing. Arrest Zimmerman.”

Before the march began, the sounds of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech spilled from Centennial Park on Park Avenue in Sanford. His voice came from the speakers of Jamal Bell’s red bicycle with a trailer that he converted to a rolling sound system.

“It’s 2012. This shouldn’t still be going on,” said Bell, 27, a Seminole State College student. “We need to stand up for what is right.”

Andy Anderson, a 67-year-old white man wearing a T-shirt that said “I am Trayvon Martin,” said he marched for civil rights in the 1960s and felt the need to do it again.

“Justice then, justice now,” Anderson of Longwood said. “Everyone should be here. It’s such an outrage. Not even debatable.”

A march from Centennial Park led by Jackson, Sharpton, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and Trayvon’s parents ended at the civic center.

“What do we want? Justice” the crowd chanted.

What is unnatural is for parents to bury their child,” Sharpton. Do the right thing. Do the right thing. Arrest Zimmerman.”

As the meeting was starting, Commissioner Mark McCarty was taken to a hospital with chest pains, which he has suffered in the past. McCarty was the commissioner who made a motion of no confidence last week in the Sanford police chief. Two other commissioners voted with him, and Chief Bill Lee stepped aside temporarily.

Buses from Palm Beach County unloaded people clamoring to attend the meeting. Dozens of members of the Palm Beach Urban League got out, some chanting Trayvon’s name.

The civic center has seating for about 460 people. Large screens and speakers will broadcast the meeting at nearby Fort Mellon Park for the expected overflow crowd.

About 30 percent of the seats inside the center will go to Trayvon’s relatives. Sanford residents get first dibs on the rest. Any remaining openings will be available to the general public.

By 3 p.m., a long line had formed outside the building. The crowd included locals and out-of-towners, many using umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun.

Johnny Kyle, a Sanford resident, said he came because he wants to know why police haven’t made an arrest in the case.

“They didn’t do their job,” Kyle said.

Trayvon was shot to death Feb. 26 by Neighborhood Watch coordinator George Zimmerman, who reported the 17-year-old to police as a suspicious person in his Retreat at Twin Lakes community. Trayvon was wearing a hoodie at the time, prompting nationwide protests by people wearing hoodies.

Zimmerman told Sanford officers that Trayvon punched him, knocking him to the ground, then banged his head into the pavement as he cried out for help.

Trayvon’s family says he was the one calling for help.

Zimmerman has not been arrested, provoking nationwide protests, the appointment of a special prosecutor and even a comment from President Barack Obama. The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI also are investigating.

Damon Perry of West Palm Beach said he came “for justice for Trayvon.” He has three words for city commissioners: “Lock Zimmerman up.”

Jeff Kunerth, Jeff Weiner, Bianca Prieto and Stephen Hudak of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.


Copyright © 2012, Orlando Sentinel