More than 300 people converged on the steps of the Hale Boggs Federal Building on Poydras Street on Saturday to demand that the U.S. Justice Department fully investigate the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.
The rally, one of 100 organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and held simultaneously across the country, featured speeches from local and national civil rights leaders.
“We say, we will not rest; we will not stop; we will not tire, until there is justice for Trayvon,” said former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, who is president of the National Urban League.
Zimmerman shot Martin in Sanford, Fla., in February 2012 and was acquitted by a six-person jury last week on the grounds of self-defense. The case and resulting verdict have triggered a national dialogue about issues of racial profiling and gun control.
Morial said in a statement released after the verdict that he believes Zimmerman could be charged in the shooting under federal law, possibly for violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
The Justice Department said last Sunday that it had restarted its investigation into the case.
Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond, the only elected leader to speak at the event, suggested that what happened to Martin could happen to any black male, including himself.
“That could be me, today,” Richmond said. “In New Orleans, when I cross the street, people still go to the other side,” he added.
Richmond said the shooting of Martin along with a June ruling by the Supreme Court that struck down much of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 should be wake up calls to the African-American community.
“We have fought too long and too hard to go back,” he said.
Shedrick Roy Jr., a former student body president of SUNO, delivered one of the more impassioned oratories of the afternoon. Dressed in a gray hooded-sweatshirt, which he tore off mid-speech to reveal a Barack Obama shirt, Roy characterized the need for positive change in the black community as urgent.
“This is the beginning of a new civil rights movement,” he said, adding that he was hopeful that the silver lining to Martin’s shooting would be a revitalized commitment to social justice activism among not only blacks, but people of all races.
Roy said, however, that much of the challenge will fall on the backs of black men.
“So many of us are dying, we have to mean something to somebody,” he said.
Roy was one of two speakers who criticized Mayor Mitch Landrieu and members of the City Council for not attending the event, calling their absence, “disrespectful.”
Landrieu addressed the National Council of La Raza Convention, a major Latino organization, on Saturday morning.
Roy’s criticism of the mayor was shared by Sharon Browning, who attended the event with a friend after hearing about it on the radio.
Browning said that both her son and nephews have been profiled by the police and that she still worries about the safety of her 36-year-old son when he goes out at night.
“Unless you’re the mother of a black child, you can’t understand the pain,” she said.