“We have to do something,” Martin thought Friday as she did an Internet search for news about the 17-year-old killed Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch organizer. “We have to remember the family.”
So, using the power of email and Facebook, Denton organized a rally in Reno on Saturday for people who felt the pain of the Martin family even from 2,800 miles away.
“People lose 17-year-olds all the time through illness, through car accidents — car accidents are the number one cause of death among 17-year-olds — but this family chose a place to live that they thought was safe to raise their family ... so they thought. This family didn’t expect their son to be walking home in the rain and be pursued ... because of the color of his skin.”
The killing has sparks rallies and protests across the country, recognized by the cans of iced tea and bags of Skittles candy that Martin was said to be out buying just before he returned home and was shot. Protestors in Reno and elsewhere also have been seen wearing “hoodie” sweatshirts, which Martin was wearing at the time of his murder and which has sparked discussion over a person’s appearance — both dress and skin color — and the perception of threat.
Zimmerman has not been charged in the Feb. 26 shooting that has ignited racial tensions and raised questions about the Sanford police’s handling of the case, the Associated Press reported Saturday. Martin was black, and Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
“Is George a racist? The answer is no, absolutely not. He’s not a racist,” attorney Craig Sonner said about his client. “The incident that transpired is not racially motivated or a hate crime in any way. It was self-defense.”
Many people disagree.
“I think there is bias and racial profiling going on,” said Lillian Walker, a Reno resident who was at Saturday’s rally with her daughter Lindsey. “People see other people dressed a certain way and they freak out and that needs to stop. This case is a wake-up call to the entire nation to look at this and examine these issues.
“I’m here because I’m a mom, I’m African American, I have a son,” Walker added as she held a bag of Skittles. “He is 20 years old now and he was a student athlete and when I heard about this story it struck me in my heart. That could have been my son. He walked around with stuff like this, he talked on his cell phone, minding his own business.”
The crowd in downtown Reno waving signs and cans of iced tea and candy was diverse — from white to black to Hispanic, young and old, men and women.
“Everybody should be out here,” said Dawn Adams, a 31-year-old former teacher from Reno. “I have taught students who look like Treyvon and just the reality that certain students of mine are more or less not safe in the streets is just horrifying to me. I think we need to do something about our awareness of racial bias.”
Melanie Lopez of Reno spoke to her fellow ralliers on Saturday, saying “driving while black, walking while black, existing while black should not be a crime.”
“The Martin family will probably never find peace in the murder of their son,” Lopez continued, “but I hope they find justice.”
The U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil rights probe into the shooting, and a grand jury is scheduled to meet April 10 to consider evidence in the case, according to the Associated Press.
“A senseless tragedy can happen to anybody but it shouldn’t happen based on somebody’s race,” Denton said.