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Rallies in Tampa, St. Pete protest Trayvon verdict

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Published:   |   Updated: July 20, 2013 at 09:16 PM

TAMPA - Two mothers stood at the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa on Saturday in the aftermath of a jury's ruling that has gripped the nation yet remained intensely personal to them.

Jacqui Greene, who is black, said she fears for the safety of her 20-year-old daughter.

"Since this Trayvon Martin incident and the verdict (July 13), I'm extra cautious," said Greene, 46, of Lutz. "I watch her every single minute. I don't let her go out alone."

Toni Treverton, who is white, said she, too, has grown daughters and worries about their well-being.

"I am scared for them. I am here to support everybody who has children," said Treverton, 60, of Lakeland.

Greene, Treverton and about 300 other people gathered Saturday at the Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse, 801 N. Florida Ave., to protest the verdict that George Zimmerman was not guilty in the death of the unarmed Martin.

Tampa joined about 100 cities in a nationwide rally organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network. Protests were held in St. Petersburg, Miami, New York, Los Angeles and other cities. Sharpton wants the Justice Department to pursue the case and is pressing for federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch leader.

The case out of Sanford has become a flash point in debates about guns, race relations and self-defense laws. Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic. Martin, 17, was black.

People attending Tampa's rally said it was those same issues that brought them to the courthouse on Saturday, along with another sentiment: unity.

"There are still race relations that need to be addressed," said Keisha Pickett, one of the rally's organizers. "We want to live in unity. We have to come together."

The crowd at the Tampa courthouse wrapped around a corner; about 100 more people stood across the street. Songs by Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Public Enemy, all containing themes about change and equality, played over loudspeakers.

In the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd stood Treverton, holding a sign that read: "I Am Trayvon's Mother." She said she wants to see a repeal of the state's "stand your ground" law, which allows people to use deadly force if they believe their lives are in danger.

"It's a horrible law," she said. "And I do think black children are profiled. It's wrong. It should be over."

State Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, who spoke at the rally, mentioned the law and told the crowd, "we cannot afford to continue down this path."

Across Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg, a group met at Poynter Park on Third Street South and marched north on Bayshore Drive to Vinoy Park along the city's waterfront.

By the end of the march, about 100 people had gathered at the park overlooking Tampa Bay holding signs that read, "Justice for Trayvon" and "Guns Kill, Stop the Violence."

Several of the marchers donned hooded sweatshirts, including some children, despite the humid weather. St. Petersburg City Councilman Wengay Newton told the audience that the police chief reported 1,150 juvenile arrests between December and June.

"We have arrested 1,150 Trayvon Martins," said Newton, who wore a sleeveless black "hoodie" over his shirt. "You have to have (a) demonstration because if you don't see the people, you figure everything's all right. And it's not. It's not. I just don't want to have another Trayvon here."

Pinellas County Commission Chairman Ken Welch affirmed Gov. Rick Scott's call for a day of prayer for unity, but he said the governor needed to go further and hold a special session to fix Florida's "stand your ground" law.

Community members also spoke up, like Candice Billingsley, who serves on the Student Government Association of St. Petersburg College's Midtown Campus.

Holding her 3-year-old son, Marvin, she called on the audience to keep a watchful eye on children in their neighborhoods.

"As a community, we must first expect of our community to stand up, to protect our village and to be mothers - even if you don't have a single child - to be mothers and fathers of every child that walks the face of St. Petersburg, Florida," Billingsley said.

Martin's mother attended a rally in New York City, and his father was in Miami. At an appearance in Harlem, Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, told supporters: "Today it was my son. Tomorrow it might be yours."

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report. rreyes@tampatrib.com

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