The Trayvon Martin story, which has captivated much of the nation, added a chapter centered in Charleston Saturday afternoon.
A Justice for Trayvon rally was held on the steps of the U.S. Custom House on East Bay Street. The rally was part of a call for action by Rev. Al Sharpton to hold rallies in 100 cities across the nation, all in support of the filing of federal civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, the man found not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
The rally was held by The Coalition (People United to Take Back Our Community). Pastor Thomas Dixon, co-founder of The Coalition and leader of the Summerville Christian Fellowship, said the rally was about protesting in the name of peace and unity.
“We’re trying to light a fire that won’t go out until change comes.”
Despite a morning shower and the hot weather, the crowd grew to about 100 people at its biggest point. Many were holding handmade signs, some emblazoned with the image of Martin. Some attendees echoed statements President Obama made on Friday by saying, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
The Pledge of Allegiance began the rally, with a special emphasis put on the lines “with liberty, and justice for all,” by those on the Custom House steps as well as some in the crowd.
Speakers reiterated that the rally was a peaceful, non-violent gathering and thanked the law enforcement officials that came out to ensure that everything went smoothly.
“We came out here to do one thing and one thing only – honor the memory of Trayvon Martin,” said James Johnson, one of the men who organized the rally.
J. Denise Cromwell, holding signs featuring the image of Trayvon Martin, said the rally wasn’t just about the Florida teen.
“We have to continue the awareness of people when injustice is an issue. It’s not just a Trayvon thing.”
Later, Cromwell took the microphone and began to speak from the Custom House steps. She told her personal story of growing up in a rural area and being told she would never amount to anything. Now, she is the owner of a barbershop and salon in North Charleston.
“We want no involvement with violence, no matter race, creed or color,” she said.
Perhaps the most endearing moment of the rally came when a young man named Antwonn Gathers took to the steps. Gathers was wearing a hoodie, similar to what Trayvon Martin was wearing on the night of his death. He said into the microphone the same words that were written on a sign he was holding – “I am NOT a thug.”
Ultimately, the rallies are an attempt to spark federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman. Pastor Dixon said those charges would make a statement that people would not sit idly by while injustices were occurring. He invoked words of Dr. Martin Luther King by saying “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Not everyone was happy with their experience at the rally, however. Emmanuel Ferguson, a candidate for state Senate in District 42 said he was not allowed to speak at the rally, and his opponent, attorney Marlon Kimpson, was.
Ferguson wanted to speak about the same issue Kimpson spoke about, the state’s Stand Your Ground law, but said he was threatened to be thrown out of the rally.
“I’m upset I didn’t get to address the crowd and my opponent did,” he said
In a rally in Columbia, several thousand people gathered at the South Carolina Statehouse to protest the Zimmerman verdict.
The Associated Press contributed to this report