Rapper Jay Z and his wife, R&B singer Beyonce, joined the Rev. Al Sharpton and Trayvon Martin’s mother at a Saturday rally for Martin in Harlem, N.Y.—one of at least 100 protest gatherings scheduled to take place across America.
Sharpton’s National Action Network organized the “Justice for Trayvon” rallies and vigils outside federal buildings from New York and Los Angeles to Wichita, Kan., and Atlanta, where people stood in the rain at the base of the federal courthouse, with traffic blocked on surrounding downtown streets. Most rallies were scheduled for noon local times.
Jay Z with Justin Timberlake dedicated the song “Forever Young” to Martin during their closing number at Yankee Stadium Friday night: “Everybody put a cell phone and light it up,” Jay Z said according to TMZ, “let’s light the sky for Trayvon Martin tonight in here.”
Beyonce dedicated her rendition of “I Will Always Love You” to Martin during a concert a week ago today, just after George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering the unarmed teenager in Sanford, Fla., last year.
In addition to pushing the Justice Department to investigate civil rights charges against Zimmerman, Sharpton told supporters outside his headquarters on W. 145th Street that he wants to see a rollback of stand-your-ground self-defense laws.
“We are trying to change laws so that this never, ever happens again,” Sharpton said.
Stand-your-ground laws are on the books in more than 20 states, and they go beyond many older, traditional self-defense statutes. In general, the laws eliminate a person’s duty to retreat in the face of a serious physical threat.
Zimmerman did not invoke Florida’s stand-your-ground law, instead relying on a traditional self-defense argument. Nor was race discussed in front of the jury that acquitted Zimmerman. But the two topics have dominated public discourse about the case, and came up throughout Saturday’s rallies.
Part of Sharpton’s comments echoed those made by President Barack Obama on the case yesterday. “Racial profiling is not as bad as segregation, but you don’t know the humiliation of being followed in a department store,” Sharpton said.
Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a candidate for comptroller, was in attendance and agreed with Sharpton, the Post reports.
“This is absolutely a civil rights issue,” he said. “Regardless of how you view the legality of the verdict in isolation, justice here was denied. An innocent young man was shot and killed and that is a tragedy.”
The Florida case has become a flashpoint in separate but converging national debates over self-defense laws, guns, and race relations. Zimmerman, who successfully claimed self-defense, identifies as Hispanic. Martin was black.
At the Harlem rally, Martin’s mother—wearing a shirt emblazoned with an image of her late son—vowed to the crowd at One Police Plaza to dedicate the rest of her life to fight for victims of gun violence, the New York Post reported.
“We have moved on from the verdict,” Sybrina Fulton said. “Of course we are hurting. Of course we are shocked and disappointed, but that just means we have to roll up our sleeves and continue to fight.”
“He was walking home minding his business,” she said. “Trayvon was no burglar. He had every right to be in that community.”
She implored people to understand that the tragedy involved more than Martin alone. “Today it was my son. Tomorrow it might be yours,” she said. “I promise you I’m going to work for your children as well.”
In Indianapolis, the Rev. Jeffrey Johnson told about 200 attendees that the nationwide effort is about making life safer for young black men. Johnson said young black men still are endangered by racial profiling, and he compared Zimmerman’s acquittal to that of four white officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King in 1992.
“The verdict freed George Zimmerman, but it condemned America more,” said Johnson, pastor of the Eastern Star Church in Indianapolis and a member of the board of directors of the National Action Network.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that his department would investigate whether Zimmerman could be charged under federal civil rights laws. Such a case would require evidence that Zimmerman harbored racial animosity against Martin. Most legal experts say that would be a difficult charge to bring.
Holder said the shooting demonstrates the need to re-examine stand-your-ground laws.
Check out raw video of the NYC rally with remarks from Sharpton just after the 1-minute mark (along with some calls from the crowd to get Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera away from the proceedings):
Here’s a CNN report from a Miami protest, including an interview with Martin’s father:
The Associated Press contributed to this post.