A week after the jury reached a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of George Zimmerman, a mixture of anger, despair and resilience permeated the scorching air outside of the NYPD headquarters on Saturday, where protesters had assembled on behalf of slain 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Reverend Al Sharpton was at the helm of the proceedings, which brought together superstars Beyoncé and Jay Z, a slew of mayoral candidates and Mr. Martin’s mother, Sabrina Fulton, who has been dubbed the “matron of the movement.”
For his part, Mr. Sharpton delivered a passionate speech about the loss of Trayvon Martin and the ongoing battle for civil rights in the United States.
“We’re going to keep the focus on the Justice Department, because Trayvon Martin had the civil right to go home that day,” the reverend emphatically declared. “What about Trayvon’s right to stand his ground? What about our right to stand our ground?”
The question drew eruptions of support from the diverse crowd, a collection of various ages, sexes and races, standing in the heat. In one instance, a young man fell prey to the blistering sun and passed out, and the masses of people surrounding him offered water, towels and a space to breathe before a medic arrived.
But nothing united the group more than Ms. Fulton, who wore a shirt with the picture of her deceased son in a green hoodie.
“I am honored that you all decided to take part in this occasion,” Ms. Fulton said, choking back tears at the podium. “It’s one thing to plan an event and no one comes. It’s another thing to come to the event and see so many faces, you see so many people, you see so many signs.”
The crowd yelled back “We love you Sabrina” as Ms. Fulton tried to gather her emotions in the moment.
“Trayvon was a child. And I think sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle because as I sat in the courtroom, it made me think that they were talking about another man. And it wasn’t. It was a child,” she continued. “He acted as a child. Who behaved as a child. And don’t take my word for it. He had a drink and candy.”
In the throng of supporters and family members, mayoral candidates appeared, many of whom linked the death of Trayvon Martin to their issues with the NYPD’s controversial stop and frisk policy in the five boroughs.
“This is a big issue,” City Comptroller John Liu told Politicker. “There is a national outrage now that this continued mindset of a young person of color–even if he’s just walking home–must be up to no good. That’s the mindset that allows Zimmerman to do what he did. That is also the mindset that justifies the stop and frisk here in New York City.”
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, another staunch NYPD critic, spoke Saturday about the need for racial profiling legislation.
“We’re fighting to achieve a racial profiling ban. Our own mayor said there is no profiling,” Mr. de Blasio said, his wife silently agreeing at his side. “He said he will veto it. He said he will use every power he has to veto it. We’ve got to stop that. We’ve got to achieve a racial profiling ban.”
Others were more reticent to make the direct connection between Mr. Zimmerman’s actions and the NYPD.
“I’m not going to say there are similarities,” former Comptroller Bill Thompson, the mayoral race’s only African-American candidate, told reporters. “They’re very different circumstances. They’re very different situations.”
Nevertheless, taking a cue from President Barack Obama’s statements on the issue, Mr. Thompson said he strongly identified with Trayvon Martin.
“As the president pointed out,” he said, “35 years ago–and maybe in my case the same 35 or 40 years ago–it could have been me also.”