A crowd reaching the thousands gathered for the Million Hoodie March at New York City's Union Square Wednesday to protest the February shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, and their lawyer Ben Crump, addressed supporters before the mass spilled into the streets.
"Our son is your son," Fulton said to cheers, her voice strong despite the threat of tears. "This is not a black and white thing. This is a right or wrong thing!"
"My son did not deserve to die," Martin said. "There's nothing to say that can bring him back, but I'm here today to assure that justice is served and that no other parent has to go through this again."
The unarmed Florida teenager's death at the hands of 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a neighborhood-watch captain who ignored a 911 dispatcher's request not to pursue or engage the young man, has gripped the nation's attention. Zimmerman was not arrested or charged with the Feb. 26 killing, after claiming self-defense. In 911 calls that have only recently been publicly released, Zimmerman can be heard describing the young man as acting suspiciously and wearing a dark hoodie, or hooded sweatshirt.
The clothing item was the symbol of solidarity for protestors of all races and ages at Wednesday evening's march. Daniel Marmee, 24, a co-organizer of the march, planned the event in part to stop young African Americans from being stereotyped based on their clothing or their appearance.
"I've worn a hoodie and felt the same social stigma," Marmee told The Root. "That's really where the idea came from. I want my brothers and sisters to walk with confidence no matter what they look like or what they're wearing."
"We see these types of incidents happen so often in the country," he continued. "As a black man I've been conditioned to have to find a way to cope with it by putting it in the background and saying this is just a onetime occurrence."
That changed for Marmee after hearing about Martin's murder. He and co-organizers Sharon Panelo and Amy Frame created a Facebook "event" for the Million Hoodie March on Monday, calling for supporters to "Show the world we are all Trayvon" and help obtain 1 million signatures on a Change.org petition Martin's parents started to encourage law enforcement to arrest Zimmerman.
Martin's death and the chilling facts behind the tragedy — the high school student was carrying nothing but an iced tea and a bag of Skittles when he was shot — have brought out the worst fears in the black community: that black life is not valued or worth protecting.
"Why hasn't there been justice for him yet?" asked Ahmaad Harris, 23, clad in a green hoodie. "What kind of justice system is that?"
Holding her 10-year-old son, coincidentally also named Trayvon Martin, close to her, Tiffany Harkless, 33, told The Root, "It's such a shame to have a young life taken for no reason."
Posters asking "Do I look suspicious?" and "Am I next?" were held high, alongside photocopied pictures of Martin's impish smile accompanied by the slogan, "Justice for Trayvon." The need to end racial profiling ran through each speech at the protest.
"Unfortunately, wherever you go in this country, the darker your skin, the more you look like a criminal," said New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn, who was arrested during last year's West Indian Parade. "That's a problem."
After recounting the details around the shooting, family attorney Crump asked the audience, if Martin had been white, would Zimmerman be free? The answer was a resounding, "No!"
"We want to say no matter who you are in America — black, white, Hispanic — it doesn't matter," Crump said, as Martin's parents stood in front of him. "We demand equal justice."
Anthonia Akitunde is a contributor to The Root.