Thousands gathered Sunday at Miami’s Bayfront Park for the Trayvon Martin Justice Rally, including civil rights icons Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, former Miami Heat player Alonzo Mourning, a couple of Florida legislators, and the queen of funk Chaka Khan. Vendors hawked T-shirts, posters were passed around in the seated section, and onlookers and families soaked up the sunshine in the grassy outskirts usually reserved for general-admission ticket holders at concerts.
This marked the second Florida rally in a week calling for the arrest of 28-year-old George Zimmerman, who’s admitted to shooting Trayvon Martin, albeit in self-defense, and for the repeal of the state’s Stand Your Ground law, which is shielding Zimmerman from arrest; the protest a day earlier in Sanford, Fla., the site of the February shooting, seemed to garner much more media attention. But there’s no place like home according to Sybrina Fulton, mother of the slain Miami teenager. “We’ve been a lot of places, this means the most to us,” Fulton said to a hushed crowd.
(The Miami love was palpable with shout-outs to the Miami Heat and a local pastor riling up the audience with “New York is marching, D.C. is marching, but ain’t no party like a Miami party!”)
Friends and family told stories about the 17-year-old Martin: His football coach called him one of the “best defensive players” and a childhood friend described him as a “wise person, positive person.” Rev. Jesse Jackson called attention to the tragic and unnecessarily high rate of suspensions and expulsions among black male youth. (Martin had been suspended for a bag containing tiny remnants of marijuana.)
The only voice at the rally that felt conspicuously absent — though its absence was entirely understandable — was that of Martin’s older brother Jahvaris Fulton, an Information Technologies major at Florida International University. A speaker introduced the FIU senior to the Miami audience, but said Fulton would burst into tears if faced with speaking about his brother. (He has spoken out about the incident, talking recently with CBS about how his family is dealing with the tragedy and the intense media coverage surrounding it.) Not hearing Fulton speak left a void, though small, simply because the average age of the speakers skewed so much older than the victim. Of course, no one should expect a college-age man, thrown into the spotlight through no fault of his own, to become the next voice of social justice activism. However, young people have felt decidedly absent from the discourse surrounding the event.
The case will go before a grand jury on April 10. Until then, more rallies are in the works in various cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles.