ATLANTA - One week after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, people gathered nationwide for rallies to press for federal civil-rights charges against the former neighborhood watch leader and call for changes to the nation's self-defense laws.
The Florida case has become a flashpoint in separate but converging national debates over self-defense, guns and race relations. Zimmerman, who successfully claimed that he was protecting himself when he shot Martin, identifies himself as Hispanic. Martin was black.
For some attendees, particularly those who are black, the rallies seemed as much about those larger issues as about the verdict.
"It's personal," said Cincinnati resident Chris Donegan, whose 11-year-old son wore a hoodie to the rally, as Martin did the night he died. "Anybody who is black with kids, Trayvon Martin became our son."
The Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network organized the "Justice for Trayvon" rallies and vigils outside federal buildings in at least 101 cities: from New York and Los Angeles to Wichita, Kan., and Atlanta, where people stood in the rain at the bases of two federal buildings, with traffic blocked on surrounding downtown streets.
Chants rang out across the rallies. "Justice! Justice! Justice! ... Now! Now! Now!" " 'We won't forget." "No justice! No peace!" Many also sang hymns, prayed and held hands.
And plenty of participants carried signs: "Who's next?" "I am Trayvon Martin." "Enough Is Enough."
Most rallies began at noon. In New York, hundreds of people - including Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, and superstars Jay-Z and Beyoncé - gathered in the heat.
Fulton told the crowd she was determined to fight for societal and legal changes needed to ensure that black youths are no longer viewed with suspicion because of their skin color.
"I promise you I'm going to work for your children as well," she told the crowd.
At a morning appearance at Sharpton's headquarters in Harlem, she implored people to understand that the tragedy involved more than Martin alone. "Today it was my son. Tomorrow it might be yours," she said.
In addition to pushing the Justice Department to investigate civil-rights charges against Zimmerman, Sharpton told supporters in New York that he wants to see a rollback of "stand your ground" self-defense laws.
"We are trying to change laws so that this never, ever happens again," Sharpton said.
"Stand your ground" laws are on the books in more than 20 states, and they go beyond many older, traditional self-defense statutes. In general, the newer laws eliminate a person's duty to retreat, if possible, in the face of a serious physical threat.
Zimmerman didn't invoke "stand your ground," relying instead on a traditional self-defense argument, but the judge included a provision of the law in the jurors' instructions, allowing them to consider it as a legitimate defense.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that his department would investigate whether Zimmerman could be charged under federal civil-rights laws. Such a case would require evidence that Zimmerman harbored racial animosity against Martin.
Most legal experts say that would be a difficult charge to prove.
The push for civil-rights charges against former neighborhood watch leader George Zimmerman has drawn hundreds of people to rallies in Tucson and Phoenix. There were chants of "Tucson, we won't forget" by civil-rights activists, religious leaders and college students who gathered early Saturday at El Presidio Park. The names of victims of violence and injustice were read aloud. One of the organizers, Shannon Franklin, said people need to be willing to speak up against injustices and laws that precipitate injustice.
The Associated Press