At the heart of a downtown rally by people shaken over the not-guilty verdict in the death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, the microphone passed to 10-year-old Gabriel Reed.
A growing boy. Large for his age. A full Afro hairstyle. Not long from carrying the same physical stature as Martin the night of his death.
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“I say Trayvon!” he shouted to a crowd of more than 100 people in front of the Kansas City federal courthouse. “You say human!”
sounded the crowd.
Black men and boys at the Kansas City rally in turn engaged the crowd with their fears, pleas and prayers. Similar words were delivered at an evening event in Kansas City, Kan., and at rallies nationwide.
The demonstrations came one week after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of 17-year-old Martin.
Zimmerman successfully claimed that he was protecting himself when he shot Martin.
The case has renewed a nation’s struggle in securing confidence in equal justice for all, with new debates over self-defense laws, guns and racial stereotypes that cast black males as frightening figures.
“How do we speak to the darkness?” said the Rev. Ron Lindsay of the Concord Fortress of Hope Church in Kansas City. “How do we make our voices heard?”
The death of Martin and the verdict for Zimmerman have brought Kansas City to “a galvanizing moment,” he said.
“This is the moment to start a new conversation,” he told the crowd. “To have relevance! To have a voice! To trust God!”
People in the crowd carried signs saying, “Save Our Sons,” “Trayvon: A scared boy missing forever,” and “No justice. No peace.”
Similar messages sounded across the nation.
The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network organized the “Justice for Trayvon” rallies and vigils outside federal buildings in at least 101 cities, from New York to Los Angeles.
Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, was among hundreds who gathered in New York.
Fulton told the crowd she was determined to fight for societal and legal changes needed to ensure that black youths are no longer viewed with suspicion because of their skin color.
“I promise you I’m going to work for your children as well,” she said to the rally crowd.
At a morning appearance at Sharpton’s headquarters in Harlem, she implored people to understand that the tragedy involved more than Martin alone. “Today it was my son,” she said. “Tomorrow it might be yours.”
In addition to pushing the Justice Department to investigate civil rights charges against Zimmerman, Sharpton told supporters 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.
Zimmerman didn’t invoke Florida’s stand-your-ground law, instead relying on a traditional self-defense argument.
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. Zimmerman’s lawyers have said their client wasn’t driven by race but by desire to protect his neighborhood.
During the hourlong rally in Kansas City, a pair of artists stretched out blank sheets of paper on the sidewalk and tried to cast their images among the expressions of a crowd that felt what the Rev. Dan Edwards called “the weight of historic racial discrimination of this country.”
Twenty-seven-year-old Sterling White re-created a Skittles candy wrapper — the teenager was out to get the candy when he was shot — replacing the name of the candy with the word, “Injustice.”
Stanley Morgan, 55, painted the face of Martin, rich with brown eyes, framed by a white hoodie.
“We have to change society’s way of thinking of things,” Morgan said. “I wanted to do something visual to let people know we’re not going to stand for this.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.