CHICAGO— As the temperature neared 90 degrees in the nation’s third-largest city Saturday, protesters donned hoodies and carried Skittles candy and Arizona iced tea in memory of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Part of a national effort spearheaded by MSNBC commentator Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, about 500 Chicagoans joined a 100-city “Justice for Trayvon Martin” rally Saturday in response the acquittal of George Zimmerman on a murder charge from killing the teen in 2012.
According to Chicago Police at the event, no arrests were made on-site. The location was symbolic, organizers said, as they stood across from the Everett McKinley Dirksen federal courthouse. Across the country, protesters rallied outside of federal courthouses, places where justice is served.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who’s led several local efforts supporting nonviolence with his Rainbow PUSH Coalition, lead the crowd in a chant of, “Stop the violence. Save the children,” and called the post-Zimmerman verdict era a “state of emergency.”
He called for protesters to follow in the footsteps of singer Stevie Wonder, who shortly after Zimmerman’s verdict refused to perform in any state having a “stand your ground” law.
“No more conventions, no more concerts, no more spring breaks…stand your ground until the laws are abolished,” Jackson said. “This is a global human right. We cannot stop in Washington. We must take our case to the U.N. the while works must watch us fight for justice.”
Chicago’s rally attracted a few celebrities who were in town on business. “When the verdict was read, I felt like we lost Trayvon Martin all over again,” said Grammy-award-winning artist MC Lyte. Comedian Paul Mooney encouraged protesters to “start loving each other and help each other out.”
Echoing a message of love for youth, Chicago Urban League chief executive officer said, “We are standing up here today to say to our young people, ‘we value your lives.'”
Notable Chicago priest Father Michael Pfleger, who’s been a longtime civil and human rights activist, charged the crowd to look past Zimmerman’s “not guilty” verdict. “Let’s finally have the discussion on race, and racial profiling, and unravel the seed of racism, because racism is in the DNA of America.”
“We are obligated to bring justice. Why? Because we are the city of Emmett Till.” Since news of Martin’s death sparked a national debate, many have related the killing of the Florida teen to the 14-year-old African-American boy from Chicago who was murdered in 1955 in Mississippi for reportedly whistling at a white woman. A family member of his addressed Chicago with great passion.
“This must be what this felt like 58 years ago,” said Airickca Gordon-Taylor, a distant cousin of Till’s, after she heard the Zimmerman verdict. As she and her family prepare to celebrate what would have been Till’s 75th birthday, the 58th anniversary of his death and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, she told theGrio, “It’s even more important that we recognize the judicial injustices that are continuing in our country…We are definitely living under the new Jim Crow,” she said.
The issue hits home in Chicago, where the proliferation of guns, gang violence and a 2012 murder count that topped 500 was fresh on citizen’s minds. The city recently upped the ante on local gun control laws after the Illinois General Assembly made it legal for citizens with a Firearm Owners Identification Card to carry a concealed weapon.
Illinois 2nd Congressional District Rep. Robin Kelly, a staunch gun control advocate who was endorsed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, encouraged the crowd to “Turn your anger and outrage into action. We need you behind us as we’re serving the federal government.”
Renita Young is a Chicago-based multimedia journalist. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaDYoung.