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300 attend Youngstown rally to protest Zimmerman acquittal

Published: 7/21/13 @ 12:01


SEE ALSO: Thousands gather nationwide to press for charges

By SEAN BARRON | news@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Kendrick Mickel Jr.’s sense of safety and security can perhaps be best summed up by the sign next to him.

“I heard the verdict and it was not right,” the 16-year-old East High School junior said, referring to the July 13 acquittal of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting death of Trayvon Martin, 17, in Sanford, Fla.

Holding a sign that read “I’m a black teenager walking, don’t shoot!”, Mickel was one of more than 300 children, teens and adults who attended Saturday’s “Justice for Trayvon” rally outside the Mahoning County Courthouse.

Several attendees carried signs with sayings such as “No justice, no peace.” Attached to some were packages of Skittles candies and iced-tea bottles, both of which Martin had as he walked through the gated community before Zimmerman shot the unarmed teen and claimed self-defense.

The 90-minute gathering was to call attention to what many people see as a gross miscarriage of justice regarding the six-woman jury’s verdict, while calling for federal charges of murder or civil-rights violations against Zimmerman.

Themed “It’s not a moment, it’s a movement,” the peaceful rally also demanded the repeal of Florida’s stand-your-ground law, which expands the legal threshold allowing people to use deadly force for self-defense if they feel confronted with imminent danger. Nearly two dozen states have enacted such legislation.

In other states, the use of deadly force is justified only if a person is in immediate danger and no escape or retreat is possible.

Kendrick Mickel Sr., Kendrick’s father, said he was at a graduation party when he learned of the verdict, which he said brings to the surface the chasm that still exists between many blacks and whites.

“It’s another symbol of how far we have to go” to bridge such gaps locally and nationally, the elder Mickel said, adding that Zimmerman’s acquittal is yet another action that makes many young blacks feel devalued.

Also attending the rally was 23-year-old Ebony Mickel, another family member.

“We are appalled and outraged by the Zimmerman verdict, and we are here to voice our concern that the judicial system has failed us,” said the Rev. Kenneth L. Simon, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church on the South Side, who was one of 12 speakers at the rally. “We’re here because we’re not going to take it or stand for it anymore.”

The Rev. Mr. Simon, who moderated the event, called for charges of federal civil-rights violations against Zimmerman. He also expressed concern that stand-your-ground laws could place other youngsters in danger.

Most of the presenters focused on themes such as voting for elected officials who are against such laws, holding Zimmerman accountable for his actions and mounting a campaign to oppose Ohio House Bill 203, sponsored by state Rep. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott.

The legislation, similar to Florida’s stand-your-ground law, would relax restrictions regarding carrying concealed firearms, broaden state law that presumes citizens acted in self-defense if they feel they are in immediate danger and expand the conditions under which lawful Ohioans have no legal duty to retreat if assaulted before using potentially deadly force in their homes and vehicles.

Calling Florida’s law and Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict “a legalized lynching,” Jaladah Aslam compared the situation with the August 1955 killing of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Money, Miss., in which he was brutally murdered after having whistled at a white woman. The two white men accused in the crime were found innocent, despite overwhelming evidence of their guilt.

Aslam, president of the Youngstown/Warren Black Caucus, said she listened to the 911 tape during the confrontation between Martin and Zimmerman, on which she contends Zimmerman can be heard making a stereotypical remark about Martin. In addition, she said, the teen was running for his life while being chased, even though police had advised Zimmerman they would investigate and instructed him to back away.

It’s unfair to have to worry about being racially profiled and threatened simply for walking down the street, added Aslam’s 16-year-old son, Omar.

A handful of speakers, including Atty. William R. Miller with the Community Mobilization Coalition, urged attendees to refrain from spending money in Florida until that state scraps its stand-your-ground law.

Evoking the spirit of the modern civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, some presenters urged people to register, then exercise their right to vote and have their voices count. Another quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying that “a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Perhaps few in the crowd were as personally touched by the Martin tragedy and verdict as Shirlene Hill, whose 25-year-old son,

Jamail Johnson, was shot to death Feb. 6, 2011, at a fraternity house near Youngstown State University.

“My whole world was shaken to know that a child cannot walk down the street with Skittles and iced tea and not be gunned down,” said Hill, who has a 17-year-old son. “This is truly a tragedy that if Mr. Zimmerman would have followed directions, we would not be here. I’m walking in the same shoes as Trayvon’s family.”