TRENTON — Although there was another murder in the capital city earlier this week — the city’s fifth this year — it took the shooting death of a teenager more than a thousand miles away in Florida to mobilize hundreds of area residents for a rally yesterday calling for peace and justice.
The national outrage over the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood-watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., spread to Trenton yesterday afternoon as residents rallied on the steps of City Hall before marching to the Statehouse.
Organizers, however, encouraged participants to redirect their anger to help confront and stem violence in their own neighborhoods.
“I remember my grandmother always telling me: ‘You have to clean up your own back door before you can clean up anybody else’s,’” said Andrew Bobbitt, founder of the Trenton-based nonprofit organization Never Give Up. “What about our own? Where were you when you seen somebody get killed and never said anything? Trayvon is an inspiration for us to wake up here in Trenton.”
Martin was allegedly gunned down on the night of Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, who has said he acted in self-defense. The 17-year-old was on his way to his father’s fiancee’s house after stopping off at a local convenience store when he encountered Zimmerman on the street.
Zimmerman, who has not been charged in Martin’s death, has said he was following Martin after deeming his presence in the neighborhood “suspicious.” The shooter remains free under the provisions of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows the use of deadly force as a means of self-defense. Zimmerman has reportedly said he was assaulted by Martin, but accounts of the incident have been widely disputed.
Details of the case remain unclear. A state attorney in Florida is investigating, and the case is expected to go before a grand jury in April.
Protesters said the only reason Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Hispanic, believed Martin suspicious was the young man’s skin color and attire.
Martin was clad that night in a hooded sweatshirt. The garment has become a symbol of his death.
“Yet again, another African-American male is profiled and killed because of his external appearance,” Kieanna Childs-Alexander, president of Trenton’s NAACP chapter, said during the rally. “Yet again, another family has to bury their loved one.”
“I’m putting my hoodie on today for the injustice that took place down in Sanford, Fla., to the young brother Trayvon Martin, but better yet I am marching today for the injustice and senseless acts of violence that are taking place in our own community,” said Duncan Harrison, president of the Mercer County Young Black Democratic Club.
When he arrived at the Statehouse, Harrison intended to deliver a proclamation to Gov. Chris Christie’s office and to members of the state Legislature, pressing them for additional funding for police officers and programs to stem violent crime.
While many participants wore hoodies to yesterday’s rally, Councilwoman Phyllis Holly-Ward urged people not to forget to show off who they are under the hoodies.
“What we’re trying to tell everybody and show everybody is what was underneath that hoodie. It was a proud, positive, productive citizen and that’s what we need to show people,” she said. “Don’t forget to take the hoodies off and hold your head up high and show everybody that we do have college graduates, and we do have doctors, and we do have lawyers who are underneath hoodies.”