URBANA — About 100 people in Urbana added their voices to others across the nation Saturday in calling for civil rights violation charges to be filed against George Zimmerman, acquitted a week earlier of the February 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin, 17, in Sanford, Fla.
“I am Trayvon. I am somebody,” Champaign County NAACP President Patricia Avery hollered through a bullhorn at the crowd gathered at the federal courthouse in downtown Urbana.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” she said, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King. “It is time to snap out of it, people.”
Many in the group had marched from King Park on North Lincoln Avenue to the front door of the courthouse in hot and humid conditions that felt more like the deep South than central Illinois.
Some wore their sweat shirt hoods up and had packages of Skittles pinned to their clothing, a nod to the candy — not a weapon — Trayvon had in his pocket when killed. And they carried signs that said such things as “Invest in Community, Not Incarceration,” and “I Am Not a Criminal.”
There, they listened to several speakers who urged them to shake off complacency and get involved in groups working on behalf of African-Americans.
“This is not an event. This is an organizing effort,” said Carol Ammons, an Urbana alderwoman and a member of several of the groups that joined in the rally.
“You have to be involved and engaged and do the work God has called you to do, however you see that God,” Ammons said.
She urged the group to contact local representatives to speak out against the construction of more jail space. She and others also told the crowd to contact state and federal legislators to object to laws such as Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” and the recently passed concealed carry in Illinois.
“The mass arming of the U.S. white population is a threat to the black community,” said Sundiata Cha Jua, moderator for the peaceful protest and a University of Illinois associate professor of African-American studies and history.
Ammons’ husband, Aaron Ammons, a local activist, and a member of the Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice, also did his best to motivate the group. He called for support for the Citizens With Conviction group and the “Ban the Box” campaign, an effort to help convicted felons get meaningful employment and other opportunities by not labeling them as convicted felons for life.
“Slavery has never been abolished in the United States,” he said, noting that a criminal conviction can keep a person from pursuing an education, housing and employment.
Other younger speakers included Keyonte Cobb, a Parkland College student, and Jamie Gatson, a recent graduate of Central High School.
Cobb, a member of the Champaign New Optimistic Legacy Achievers Debaters, invited other young people to a roundtable discussion at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Parkland College about the Zimmerman verdict and what it means about societal attitudes toward young black men.
“It’s important to see a different side of the product that comes out of the neighborhood. It’s important to see someone doing positive things,” Cobb said.
Gatson gave the crowd a sample of a video that his group, Illinois Music Group, did in tribute to Kiwane Carrington, an unarmed Champaign 15-year-old shot to death four years ago by a Champaign police officer who was trying to restrain the burglary suspect from leaving the scene.
Gatson, of Champaign, said he’d been working on the video in his head for a long time but only recently decided he needed to speak publicly about the community pain caused by the teen’s death.
The video, entitled “One More Day,” was put on YouTube a few days ago and had about 700 views in its first three days, Gatson said. It can be viewed at: http://bit.ly/13Vg7nM.
Cha Jua said he felt Saturday’s event was an important attempt to let the Justice Department know that it should pursue civil rights violations against Zimmerman.
“We brought together a large multiracial group of people fighting for social justice in Champaign. We joined with 100 other cities to send a message to the federal government. We are committed to building a movement to overturn ‘Stand Your Ground’ legislation, repeal conceal carry and begin to make an impact in converting America from a society that thrives on the brutalization of African-Americans to a society that lives up to the lofty ideals stated in the Constitution,” he said.
Sponsoring groups included the NAACP, the Ministerial Alliance, SisterNet, Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice, Citizens With Conviction, the Black Chamber of Commerce, the North End Breakfast Club, the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, the National Council of African-American Men and AON Center for Community Arts & Development.