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National Politics

Hundreds attend Trayvon Martin rally in Tampa

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 08:51 PM
TAMPA -

Word about the rally for Trayvon Martin didn't come from the church pulpit on a Sunday, but via Facebook and Twitter on a Wednesday night.

There was no Bull Connor or biting police dogs or fire hoses spraying the peaceful crowd of hundreds as it marched down a sidewalk along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in northwest Tampa on Saturday morning.

Things have changed since the 1960s, said Orlando Davis, a morning radio personality with 94.1 FM, as he stood on a podium at the rallying point and addressed the crowd.

But not everything.

An unarmed young black man was gunned down. Mostly black marchers, shouting the decades-old chant, "No justice, no peace," demanded answers to why the white shooter, a neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman, had not been charged with a crime.

Davis, speaking into a microphone, said that while watching CNN he heard Zimmerman's attorney say, "Zimmerman was not claiming a stand your ground defense. … He said he was attacked by Trayvon."

As Davis spoke, some of those who gathered shouted, "Lies, lies."

And though the Feb. 26 killing in Sanford has taken on racial overtones, Davis tried to play that down. He pointed out everyone "has hoodies in your closet" similar to the one Martin was wearing the night he was killed.

"This is not a black issue," he said. "It is not a white issue. It is a young issue. A right issue."

The rally was organized through a Facebook page for a group called "Real Talk: Real Answers."

"It [the Facebook page] was started about a year ago by a group of friends as a way to vent about issues," said Nina Range, 31, from Tampa, who organized the rally and began spreading the word through social media Wednesday night, then with press releases to traditional media the following day.

Wearing a black hoodie and dark sunglasses, Range said the Facebook forum gives members a way to talk about politics, religion and current events. Watching coverage of Martin's shooting, she said she decided to do something to bring awareness of the issue to the Tampa Bay area.

Police estimate between 600 and 800 people marched. For many of them, Martin's killing was felt on a personal, visceral level.

"This was a bad shooting," said Steeve A. Jocelyn, 28, of Tampa, as he marched through Al Lopez Park carrying the hoodie-clad 3-year-old son of a friend on his shoulders.

Jocelyn said his conclusion, based on media reports that Zimmerman shot Martin after chasing him, was the result of experience.

"I am a cop," he said, explaining he is an Air Force Reserve senior airman and member of the 927 Aerial Refueling Wing security force squadron. "The 'Stand Your Ground' law is about defending yourself. But you have to be standing, not chasing."

Though it became increasingly hot as the march made its way from the park to the rallying point, Shirley Copeland, 59, said she wouldn't take off the black hoodie she was wearing.

"I don't care if it's hot," said Copeland, holding a sign reading, "I Am Trayvon Martin."

"I am wearing this hoodie," Copeland said. "My children wear hoodies. Wearing a hoodie doesn't mean you are a criminal."

When Martin was shot, he was wearing a hoodie, carrying an iced tea and a bag of Skittles candy.

Those factors resonated with a pre-teen who had the same last name but was not related. Holding up a sign with checkmarks for "iced tea," "Skittles," "hoodie," "black" and the words "Am I Next?" Zion Martin, 11, said he could identify with Trayvon Martin.

And for more than sharing a last name.

"I am young and black," he said.

Martin also has intimate knowledge of what the slain teen's family might be feeling.

"When I was three years old, my dad was shot and killed," he said.

His mother, LaTonya Martin, said her son's father was killed Aug. 23, 2004, in New York while attending a friend's funeral.

"No one has been arrested for killing my dad," Zion Martin said. "I am waiting for justice, too."


haltman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7629

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