The most popular sign Monday at a Kansas City rally for Trayvon Martin read: “It Doesn’t Hurt Until It’s One Of Yours”
If true, then the Florida teen was truly a son in America’s family.
Here and in cities across the country, crowds gathered Monday to mourn and rally for the 17-year-old high school student shot and killed a month earlier by a neighborhood watch volunteer.
George Zimmerman, 28, says Martin attacked him. The teen’s parents and supporters accuse Zimmerman of racial profiling and shooting an unarmed youth returning to the home of his father’s girlfriend.
Martin was black. Zimmerman is the son of a white father and Hispanic mother.
According to a new national survey, nearly 3 out 4 Americans say the police should arrest Zimmerman. The same percentage says neighborhood watch members should not be allowed to carry weapons, according to the CNN poll.
“We shouldn’t have to be out here,” said Virginia Alder of Lee’s Summit, one of those who gathered Monday at the J.C. Nichols Fountain near the Country Club Plaza. “We shouldn’t have to rally and get angry. This was about the color of Trayvon’s skin and this thing shouldn’t have gotten this far.”
By now, most people have heard about Martin’s death Feb. 26 in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., outside Orlando. Zimmerman called the police to say he saw someone in a hoodie who looked “suspicious” because he walked too slowly in the rain. The unarmed teenager carried Skittles and iced tea, and was talking to his girlfriend on the phone, records show.
Police told him to stand down, but Zimmerman continued to tail Martin. What happened after that remained in dispute Monday as new information surfaced.
The attorney for Zimmerman said evidence shows that Martin initiated the confrontation and beat his client so severely he suffered a broken nose and injuries to the back of his head.
A grass stain on the back of Zimmerman’s shirt showed there was a scuffle, lawyer Craig Sonner told ABC News.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that Zimmerman told police he lost Martin in the neighborhood he regularly patrolled and was walking back to his vehicle when the youth approached him from behind. The two exchanged words, Zimmerman said, and Martin then punched him in the nose, jumped on top of him and began banging his head on a sidewalk. Zimmerman said he began crying for help; Martin’s family thinks it was their son who cried out. Witness accounts differ and 911 tapes in which the voices are heard are unclear.
A Sanford police statement said the newspaper story was “consistent” with evidence turned over to prosecutors.
“When the evidence comes out, it will show that George Zimmerman was acting in self defense in this case,” Sonner said. “It’s not a racial issue.”
Martin’s parents and their attorney, preparing to fly to Washington for a congressional briefing today, disputed the account.
“There is absolutely no evidence of anything like that except Zimmerman’s word,” said Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Martin’s parents.
The killing has made national headlines and rekindled debate over race relations, gun laws and even how young men dress. The White House has even chimed in with President Obama saying if he had a son, he would look like Martin.
At rallies in Kansas City and elsewhere, people expressed anger and sadness, but perhaps the biggest emotion was disbelief.
People said they have a hard time understanding how Zimmerman could go against police instructions to stand down, then encounter the teen and shoot him.
“You raise your children to be honorable and academically driven and then someone just comes along and kills him,” Artesha Gladney said at the Plaza rally. “Well, I’m here to let the world know it’s not OK to do that to anyone’s kid.”
Keveion Robinson, 18, of south Kansas City, sat nearby in his hoodie with a bag of Skittles.
“You should be able to walk anywhere in this country without anybody following you because they think you’re doing something wrong,” Robinson said. “I’m grieving for his family.”
Zimmerman not being arrested has frustrated many.
“We are trapped between hopelessness and obligation,” Derecka Purnell, one of the organizers of the Kansas City rally, told the crowd.
“How can this happen and nothing be done?”
The political science major at the University of Missouri-Kansas City said if it can happen in Florida, it can happen here.
“We don’t want to wait until a child dies here before we realize KC has a problem,” Purnell said.
For the most part, the Plaza rally was about solidarity and peace.
The first mention of Zimmerman’s name brought only a single boo from the crowd.
Mayor Sly James pushed for racial harmony by having everyone grab somebody’s hand, preferable from another race.
“See, it’s about the same temperature and has the same number of fingers,” James said.
As Dave Winters, a retired Presbyterian pastor, arrived, he pulled on a blue hoodie and surveyed the crowd.
“We saw an incredible tragedy in Florida and it’s important that we get a diverse showing here today,” Winters said.
Then he smiled.
“Particularly with all the hoodies. We can all look suspicious together.”
During the first part of the rally, Alder stood with her 12-year-old grandson holding a sign on Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard.
She had taken Cortez Putman, a sixth-grader, to dinner Sunday as a reward for making the honor roll at school. She told him about the rally and asked him to go with her.
“I just want everyone to be equal,” Cortez said. “What George Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin shouldn’t have happened.”
But Martin’s family and supporters did find themselves on the defensive Monday following revelations he had been suspended for marijuana before he was shot. The teen was suspended by Miami-Dade County schools because traces of marijuana were found in a plastic baggie in his book bag.
Martin was serving the suspension when he was shot Feb. 26
Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and family attorneys blamed police for leaking the information about the marijuana and Zimmerman’s claim about the attack to the news media in an effort to demonize the teenager.
“They killed my son and now they’re trying to kill his reputation,” Fulton told reporters.
Crump said the marijuana should have no bearing on the investigation into his shooting death. State and federal agencies are investigating, with a grand jury set to convene April 10.
“If he and his friends experimented with marijuana, that is completely irrelevant,” Crump said. “What does it have to do with killing their son?”
The state Department of Juvenile Justice confirmed Monday that Martin does not have a juvenile offender record. The information came after a public records request by The Associated Press.The Associated Press and McClatchy newspapers contributed to this report.