Some wore hoodies. Some carried hand-lettered signs with heart-felt messages. Some wore T-shirts with the slogan, “I Am Trayvon.”
In all, several hundred people of various backgrounds rallied outside the Lucas County Courthouse on Saturday, part of a nationwide network of gatherings a week after a jury in Sanford, Fla., found George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen who was shot and killed by the neighborhood watch volunteer who said he was defending himself.
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On the Adams Street side of the courthouse, rally-goers seeking a better view filled the steps to the statue of President William McKinley as ministers led the crowd in prayer and exhorted them to civic action and community responsibility.
“We are a peaceful movement, but there’s a cause,” the Rev. Cedric Brock said as the rally began.
The Rev. Chris McBrayer, who organized the Toledo effort, led the rally in a call and response repeated by other speakers throughout the hourlong event.
“Justice!” said Mr. McBrayer, youth minister at Glass City Church of God.
“Peace!” the crowd roared.
“We’re going to get justice while we’re having peace, because we don’t have to terrorize the city to get it,” Mr. McBrayer said.
He asked the crowd to sign petitions seeking federal civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman and a register to show the Martin family that Toledo turned out to support them.
Pastor Cheri Holdridge said the day’s events were for young Martin’s parents.
“We’re going to work together to change laws and change hearts and minds,” she said. “We are not going away. We’re not going to forget. We are all Trayvon today.”
The Florida case has become a flashpoint in separate but converging national debates over self-defense, guns, and race relations.
Mr. Zimmerman, who successfully claimed that he was protecting himself when he shot the Martin youth, identifies himself as Hispanic. The Martin youth was black.
Other speakers in Toledo included Romules Durant, interim superintendent of the Toledo Public Schools, and State Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo), who urged the crowd to back the legislative black caucus’ efforts to quash a proposed stand-your-ground law in Ohio. Toledo Mayor Mike Bell said those in attendance could make the rally more than a one-day event.
“Let’s put a 30-day moratorium on anybody in the city of Toledo killing anybody,” Mr. Bell said. “That will send a message to Florida that Toledo cares.”
Rachel Ajiboso, 29, of South Toledo and her sister, Randa Taylor, 27, of North Toledo stood side by side through the late afternoon humidity, holding signs they’d made. Ms. Ajiboso wore a shirt, “I am Trayvon’s mother.”
“I can relate to Trayvon as being black and profiled, because it happened to me,” said Ms. Ajiboso. She said she is concerned for the future of her own son, Sean Taylor, 4. The first line of her sign: “America, is my son next???”
“Eventually he will be a black man in this society, so I believe some laws need to be changed to allow him to grow up,” Ms. Ajiboso said. “We need to give the black men a fighting chance.”
Her sister, whose sign began, “Why? We are going backwards,” added: “Did Trayvon not have the right to defend himself?”
Pat Haas, 65, of Deerfield, Mich., had a simple reason for attending: “I don’t believe in the verdict. I think the system is broken. When common sense is beaten out by the law, the law is broken.”
Now-familiar images of young Martin appeared throughout the crowd on shirts and buttons. Julian Mack, 28, of Springfield Township held aloft a sign that bore Mr. Zimmerman’s mug shot and “Those punks. They always get away,” a paraphrase of what Mr. Zimmerman said to a police dispatcher before the confrontation that led to young Martin’s death.
“The irony in that can’t be ignored,” Mr. Mack said.
Tareem Warren, 35, of West Toledo brought his sons Tareem, Jr., 10, and Takeem to show their support for young Martin’s family, “to let them know people won’t forget,” he said.
The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network organized the rallies and vigils, billed as “Justice for Trayvon.”
Mr. McBrayer said that the Toledo event was not meant to be in opposition to Mr. Zimmerman. As he asked the crowd to sign petitions, he referred to Mr. Zimmerman as “that guy ... I don’t want to say his name, because this is not about him.”
Rallies and vigils took place in more than 100 cities, from New York to Los Angeles, from Billings, Mont., and Minneapolis to Natchez, Miss.
In New York, hundreds of people — including young Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and music superstars Jay-Z and Beyonce — gathered in the heat.
Ms. 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 told the crowd.
In addition to pushing the Justice Department to investigate civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman, Mr. Sharpton told supporters In New York that 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,” he said.
“Stand-your-ground” laws are on the books in more than 20 states, and they go beyond many older, traditional self-defense statutes. In general, the newer laws eliminate a person’s duty to retreat, if possible, in the face of a serious physical threat.
Mr. Zimmerman didn’t invoke “stand your ground,” relying instead on a traditional self-defense argument, but the judge included a provision of the law in the jurors’ instructions, allowing them to consider it as a legitimate defense.
Neither was race discussed in front of the jury. But the two topics have dominated public discourse about the case, and came up throughout Saturday’s rallies.
In Ohio, rallies were held in Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus.
In Michigan, rallies were held outside the federal courthouse in Detroit, the federal building in Flint, and in Saginaw.
This report includes information from the Associated Press.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.