In most places it was too hot for hooded sweat shirts.
So they came with T-shirts.
In Washington, Elaine Morris showed up in one bearing a picture of slain teen Trayvon Martin alongside members of the Ku Klux Klan, with the slogan “Which hoodie looks suspicious?” In Chicago, CeCe Fannin handed out white T-shirts emblazoned with the words, “I mean no harm” — for black youth to wear, she said, to make clear they are not a threat.
In cities around the country, demonstrators gathered in support of the unarmed black teen in the now-iconic hooded sweat shirt whose shooting death in Florida last year inflamed racial tensions and raised questions about whether black young men are viewed more suspiciously than their peers of other races or ethnicity.
The purpose of the rallies, according to organizers, was to press for a federal civil rights prosecution in the case and to call for changes to state gun laws.
But for many of the protesters and speakers, they provided an opportunity to express their outrage that George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Martin after a confrontation in February 2012, was found not guilty of a crime by a jury on July 13.
“I support the rule of law,” Lennox Abrigo, D.C. chapter president of the National Action Network, an advocacy group founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, told several hundred protesters outside the federal courthouse in Washington. “But I disagree with every cell of my body with that verdict.”
John Allen, 23, was among several thousand demonstrators who gathered outside the federal building in downtown Chicago.
“It makes the United States look crazy,” said Allen, who lives on the city’s south side. “Here we are talking about freedom, and we let murderers off after killing a child.”
The case sparked outrage in part because a 9-1-1 recording appeared to show that Zimmerman provoked a confrontation with the 17-year-old when Martin was walking through the Sanford, Fla., neighborhood. Zimmerman, a 29-year-old white Hispanic, was concerned about a string of burglaries in the community. Critics of the decision believe he was suspicious of Martin because of Martin’s race and clothing.
Defense attorneys argued that the two got into an altercation in which Martin had the upper hand and Zimmerman feared for his life. Zimmerman’s supporters have argued that race did not play a role in the shooting.
According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, eight in 10 blacks say they think Martin’s killing was not justified, compared with 38 percent of whites. Most whites say they do not know enough about the shooting to determine whether it was justified.
Many at the rallies called for action to repeal or change “stand your ground” laws. Thirty states have adopted a version of the law, which removes a once widespread requirement that a person claiming to have killed someone in self-defense must have had to try to flee the situation first.