Wearing a black and red Ohio State hoodie, Stephen A. Kemp took a microphone Saturday morning and told a crowd, "I am not Trayvon Benjamin Martin. I am Trayvon's brother. I had the experience. At 17 years old, my brother was gunned down unarmed."
At a rally organized by Toledo-area black churches in response to the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a Neighborhood Watch captain in Sanford, Fla., Mr. Kemp called for peace but admitted it took "God and my mother to keep me from getting revenge" in his own brother's case.
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One after another, participants spoke out about their concern for young people, the need to stop the violence, and a longing for justice.
"This is not a black thing. This is not a white thing. This is a people thing," the Rev. Cedric Brock of Mount Nebo Baptist Church and president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Toledo and Vicinity, told the crowd, which grew as the nearly 90-minute rally outside the Toledo Public Schools administration building gained steam.
The event, one of several held Saturday across the country, was organized by local black churches, although many said the issue was not one of race. More than 100 people gathered to show support for Trayvon Martin's family and to voice outrage about his Feb. 26 death. George Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch captain who said he fired in self-defense, has not been charged with any crime.
"We've got to show support because right is right and wrong is wrong," said Bishop M.C. McGhee of Serenity Church. "Who doesn't want justice? It's not about black and white. It's about justice."
The theme was repeated over and over as Pastor Brock led the chant, "No justice. No peace."
The Rev. Charles McBee, pastor of Family Baptist Church, told the crowd he wanted the words of the Pledge of Allegiance to be true, that liberty and justice are "for all."
Mothers and fathers spoke. Teachers spoke. Relatives of murdered teens spoke.
Mark Billups, vice president of AFSCME Local 3497, registered people to vote.
Jerome Pecko, the TPS superintendent, and Larry Sykes, a board of education member, spoke.
Cora Hammond, who has been involved in her neighborhood Block Watch program for 12 years, told the crowd not to let young Martin's killing give Block Watch programs a bad name. Block Watch volunteers are trained to be vigilant about what's going on around them, she said, not to be vigilantes.
"We work closely with the police department," she said. "They give us information. They tell us not to go out and confront people."
Wearing a pin that said, "Young gifted black," local activist Shirley L. Smith drew applause after breaking into song.
"Why can't all God's children get along?" she sang. "We can't all be right; we can't all be wrong. We're just different singers in the same old song."
Sister Virginia Welsh, director of the Padua Center on Nebraska Avenue, recounted driving home one evening and seeing a group of teens laughing and walking together before the sound of gunshots destroyed the peaceful scene.
"There is a saying, 'Violence begets violence,' " she said. "We have to stop the violence, whether it's white against black, black against black, white against white. It's violence, and violence only creates more violence."
Not everyone spoke directly about the Florida case. Others did.
Arthur Walker, a retired Toledo police detective, quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., as saying, "An unjust law is no law at all."
"The Stand Your Ground law is unjust," he said, referring to a Florida statute that says a person may use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat.
Cameron Scott, a Central Catholic High School freshman, said he and his friend Adam Willis wear hoodies -- as young Martin did when he was shot by Mr. Zimmerman -- and he doesn't know why they should be judged for that.
"I hope that justice is served," he said. "I hope their family can forget about this one day and be happy because we won't forget about it. It was one of us, and it was just sad."
Pastor McBee exhorted city leaders to build a bridge with the community, to open up dialogue, and work with community members to solve problems.
"Mayor, where are you, sir? Chief Diggs, where are you, sir?" he said, referring to the absences of Mayor Mike Bell and Police Chief Derrick Diggs from the rally. "I want to hear from the Block Watch committee. I want to hear what your rules of engagement are. I want to hear from the city liaisons: What are the rules of engagement? I want to hear from the police department: What are the rules of engagement? And I want to hear also what it is you expect us to tell our children."
Pastor McBee said he's not going to tell young people they can't wear hoodies. He's not going to tell them they can't wear their hats sideways or gather in groups or ride in cars by themselves.
"I want to be able to tell them, 'Yes, you can go anywhere, anytime that you please because you are a part of this community,' " he said.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com or 419-724-6129.