A group of African American community leaders gathered outside San Francisco City Hall July 16 for a rally and candlelight vigil in memory of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black youth who was gunned down in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman. Protests have flared up throughout the nation since Zimmerman was acquitted on a second-degree murder charge this past weekend, spurring renewed dialogue about race.
Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP, introduced a host of speakers including pastors from black churches, the San Francisco Interfaith Council, members of the Bayview Hunters Point Community, and others. While speakers touched on a variety of topics including San Francisco’s dwindling black population and the economic pressures facing those unable to find work in an increasingly unaffordable city, much of the discussion revolved around a need to mount a significant challenge against racial profiling and to seek a different outcome in Zimmerman's case.
The NAACP “will use all of our legal and moral resources at the national level, and will push for a civil suit to bring this Zimmerman gentlemen to justice,” said Brown. The national NAACP has created a petition urging U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to open a civil rights case against Zimmerman.
Sups. London Breed, Malia Cohen, Jane Kim, and David Campos also delivered speeches at the rally.
“The injustice in Florida is a threat to all of us,” Breed said. “The injustice in Florida is a threat to African American boys. The fact that we have to look our children in the eye and explain why somebody can kill a kid and get away with it and not be charged and walk out of the courtroom a free man, how do you explain that?”
Rev. Malcolm Byrd, pastor of First A.M.E. Zion Church in San Francisco, illustrated his point about racial profiling by wearing a hoodie, jeans, and sneakers to the rally. He opened with comments referencing how Martin was deemed “suspicious” due to his appearance. His comments also alluded to the idea that Zimmerman was allowed to walk free in Florida, the same state where a woman was sentenced to three years in prison for shooting and killing a pit bull.
Despite the very real sense of outrage that many people expressed, some spoke about using the Zimmerman verdict as an opportunity to push for broader social change.
“In San Francisco, we know how to lead the way,” said LGBT activist Andrea Shorter. “On Sunday, every black church in this nation was talking about what? Trayvon Martin.” Shorter added that community members had succeeded in halting a proposal to introduce a stop-and-frisk policing policy that had the potential to increase racial profiling, and that there was momentum in place for a national effort to “dismantle racist profiling policies” and repeal stand-your-ground laws.
“For the first time in my life, after growing up and going to funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral, of all boys and black men throughout my life, I see people in this audience who are not African American, who are just as hurt as I am, who are just as sick of this as I am,” Breed noted. “And we are all in this together. We have got to work together if we want to change it.”
Cohen sounded a similar note. “I think one of the things that have transpired now that the verdict has come out is that there has been a serious call to action,” she said.
“Being black in America is to be the beneficiary of great inheritance,” said Obai Rambo of the San Francisco Black Young Democrats. “History will mark this day as one of the greatest opportunities for building equality and justice.”
Photographs by Justin Benttinen. Audio slideshow by Rebecca Bowe.