Protest calls for Trayvon Martin case prosecution

Several hundred people gather during a rally for Trayvon Martin in Daley Plaza. (Brian Cassella / Tribune)

For a second straight day, hundreds of people rallied in the Loop Saturday, among several protests across the country to show support for the family of Trayvon Martin and to demand that the man who shot and killed the unarmed teen in Florida be prosecuted.

Martin, a 17-year-old African-American, was killed Feb. 26 while walking in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer born to a Peruvian mother and a white father.

Police decided not to charge Zimmerman after he said he fired in self-defense, prompting a racially fueled uproar and forcing Sanford’s police chief to temporarily step down last week.

Zimmerman, 28, has been in hiding since shortly after the shooting.

On Saturday, members of the New Black Panther Party said during a rally in Sanford that they are offering a $10,000 reward for Zimmerman’s capture.

In Chicago, many of those in a racially mixed crowd that gathered in Daley Plaza had a far more measured response to the shooting, saying that they were angry about Martin’s death but hoped the national attention would lead to a wider discussion about race and justice in America.

“It's not just about this protest,” said Jazmin Barnett-Birdsong, 24, of Hammond, Ind., who is African American. “It's about all the protests nationwide. It's about unity and solidarity. We as a country, we think justice should prevail.”

Barnett-Birdsong and many of the other protesters wore hoody sweatshirts and carried bags of Skittles candy and cans of iced tea, as Martin was doing when he was shot while walking to his father's fiancee's town house.

The items have become symbols in rallies across the country to show that Martin was an innocent victim.

Before marching to Millennium Park, various speakers took turns addressing the crowd from the base of the Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza while others held signs with slogans such as: “Went out for candy and never came home” and “It is not a crime to be black.”

Melanie Gresham, 24, of Arlington Heights was there with about 15 relatives spanning four generations, including her 23-month-old son, Brian. She said she joined the protest because Martin could have been any black teen.

“I would be traumatized if that happened to my son because of the color of his skin or just wearing a hoodie or just because he fits the stereotype of a thug,” Gresham, an African American, said as her son played with Skittles in his stroller.

“Just because someone looks like they're up to no good doesn't mean they're up to no good,” she said.

Gresham’s sister, Margo Griffin, said she’s outraged that Zimmerman hasn’t been arrested.
 
“We want to know why, because if it was a black man and he shot a white boy, he’d be under the jail by now,” said Griffin, 40, of Sugar Grove.
 
After a little more than an hour, the protesters marched along Washington Street to Millennium Park, chanting “No justice, no peace.”

The protest broke up a short time later.

As people filed out of the park, Vincent Bradshaw, 26, of Logan Square said he’d joined the rally because he identified with Martin.

“I think it struck a strong personal chord because I have been that suspicious black male walking into a store and getting a suspicious look or a stare from a manager or a store clerk,” he said, as tourists began to filter back into the park.

rhaggerty@tribune.com

Twitter @RyanTHaggerty