Chanting "Justice for Trayvon" and "No justice, no peace," a crowd that reached into the thousands marched from Atlanta's West End to the state capitol on Sunday evening. Following a verdict of not guilty for neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin on Saturday night, Atlanta residents as well as civil rights and government leaders expressed their frustration.
"The genuine tragedy of the Trayvon Martin case is that a mother and father lost their son senselessly," said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. "I find it troubling that a 17-year-old cannot walk to a corner store for candy without putting his life in danger. I find it more troubling that a citizen could not see a young African-American youth without immediately concluding that he was up to no good."
Reed added that though he disagreed with the jury's verdict, it was important for the public to respect it. Reed also said he would be convening an emergency meeting with preachers to discuss the next steps his administration would take and was planning on making a trip to Florida in "the next few days."
There were no reports of violence during the march and rally and police followed marchers closely on bicycles. A number of speakers used bullhorns to address the assembled crowd, including 18-year-old Thomas Reeves, who wore a grey hoodie, much like the one Martin was wearing when he was shot and killed by Zimmerman, as he spoke.
"We should not be scared of somebody out there stalking us," said Reeves. "So I'm here today on behalf of everybody – all my Blacks, all my Whites, all my Asians, everybody – don't be scared. Justice needs to be served."
Opinions on the jury's decision poured in from around the nation. National Action Network president Rev. Al Sharpton said the verdict was "a slap in the face of the American people."
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said that the organization was "outraged and heartbroken" over the verdict. Both Jealous and Sharpton announced that they would be pressing the Department of Justice to pursue a civil rights lawsuit against Zimmerman. The NAACP launched the petition to the DOJ on Saturday night and has reportedly collected nearly half a million signatures online.
"We stand with Trayvon's family and we are called to act," said Jealous in a statement. "We will pursue civil rights charges with the Department of Justice, we will continue to fight for the removal of Stand Your Ground laws in every state, and we will not rest until racial profiling in all its forms is outlawed."
There was a large police presence in downtown Atlanta immediately following the announcement of Saturday's verdict, but only about 30 people turned up to march from Woodruff Park to the King Center. No injuries or arrests were reported.
On Sunday, marchers in Atlanta joined those in cities around the country whose citizens voiced their discontent with the verdict in much larger numbers. From the West End, the group marched up Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard and Northside Drive, before stopping and blocking traffic on Peachtree St.
"People want justice if someone can stalk and confront and kill someone," said Ron Allen of the Georgia Student Justice Alliance, and one of the organizers of the rally. "Kill a teenager and not be found guilty of anything, that is unjust. What we are demanding of our political system, judicial system, our economic system, we are demanding justice and fairness."