Around 100 vigils and demonstrations for Trayvon Martin, the black teenager killed in Florida when he was shot on his way home from buying a bag of sweets, were held across the US in protest at the acquittal of the man who pulled the trigger.
In New York, the 17-year-old victim’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, told crowds outside the Rev Al Sharpton’s offices in Harlem: “Today it was my son, tomorrow it might be yours. Trayvon is not here to speak [for] himself. It’s very important as parents, godparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins that you speak up for your children. Trayvon was a child ... As I sat in the court room, it made me feel like they were talking about another man. It wasn’t. He was a child,” she said.
Husband and wife music stars Jay-Z and Beyoncé met Ms Fulton at the demonstration, where posters bore the words: “Boycott Florida”.
Further demonstrations took place in Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles, with campaigners calling for a reform of “Stand Your Ground” laws, which allow lethal force to be used in self-defence.
The protests marked a week since a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter in Sanford, Florida. The neighbourhood-watch volunteer argued that he shot the teenager last February in self-defence having suspected he was a burglar.
It was later discovered the dead teenager had only been carrying a can of fizzy drink and some Skittles bought from a nearby store. He died almost instantly after being shot at point-blank range following an altercation at a gated community which Zimmerman was patrolling.
The jury voted unanimously to acquit Mr Zimmerman on the basis that he had fired the gun believing his life was in danger. The case has sparked national debates about race, civil rights and gun ownership.
The Rev Sharpton told yesterday’s rally: “Jay-Z and Beyoncé said they didn’t want to speak and they didn’t come for a photo op. Beyoncé put a beautiful message up on Instagram. Jay-Z told me: ‘I’m a father. Beyoncé is a mother.’ We all feel the pain and apprehension. The laws must protect everybody, or it doesn’t protect anybody. We do not come from hate, we come from love of children.”
In Miami, the crowds sang the civil-rights song “We Shall Overcome” as they gathered around Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father.
He said: “It sends a message to the nation that we’re not going to sit back and let our children be killed and don’t say anything about it... I vowed to Trayvon, when he was lying in his casket, that I would use every ounce of energy in my body to seek justice for him ... Senseless violence is a disease and we as a people have the cure, we just need to come together.”
In a surprise intervention on Friday, President Barack Obama made reference in a press conference to the case. “A lot of African-American boys are painted with a broad brush,” he said. “If a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario ... both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.”
He called for any demonstrations to remain peaceful, warning violence would “dishonour what happened to Trayvon Martin”.