PORTLAND — Nearly 200 people added their voices Monday night to the nationwide chorus that has protested racial profiling and gun violence since the July 13 acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who killed a black 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin, in Florida last year.
The crowd gathered at a rally in Monument Square to hear community leaders and high school students speak in commemoration of Martin, who died after being shot by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator.
Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter. But the high-profile case polarized much of the country around issues of race, violence and Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law, which allows people to use force when they feel they are in danger – without first trying to escape it.
Zimmerman claimed that was what he did when he shot Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla. The state charged that Martin, who was unarmed, posed no threat to Zimmerman.
Reaction to the verdict has included demonstrations in more than 100 cities. At Portland’s rally, speakers urged the crowd to remember Martin by stopping gun violence, repealing stand-your-ground laws, and demanding a federal civil-rights investigation of the case.
“We are here today to honor the life of an innocent young man and to call for action so there will be no more Trayvons,” said Rachel Talbot Ross, president of the NAACP’s Portland branch, one of more than a dozen groups that organized the event.
“While we are not here to debate the verdict or to demonize George Zimmerman, we do have the right to call on the Department of Justice to investigate in this case.”
Mayor Michael Brennan said, “I am not here to retry George Zimmerman. I am here to put on trial those laws and situations that resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin.”
Laws such as lax background checks contribute to an average of 33 gun homicides a day across the country, Police Chief Michael Sauschuck told the crowd. He urged the adoption of tighter checks for gun buyers, a measure supported by nearly 90 percent of Mainers, he said.
One of those supporters at the rally was Judi Richardson, whose daughter, Darien, died after being shot in a 2010 Portland home invasion.
“Changing the past is impossible. But we can do something to prevent gun violence in the future,” Richardson said in an emotional address. “And we need to remember that incidents like the Trayvon Martin shooting and other acts of gun violence happen in Portland, Maine.”
Mohamed Nur, a Deering High School junior, was one of six teenagers who spoke at the rally.
“Race is still an issue in this country … and it’s taken a tragedy for us to begin a conversation about it,” he said. “How many more tragedies are we going to have to have?”
Larry Gilbert, former Lewiston mayor and a member of Coalition for a Safer Maine, urges the adoption of more effective gun-control measures at the Monday night rally in memory of Trayvon Martin at Monument Square in Portland.