Participants at Columbia’s rally and march for Trayvon Martin said they were angered by a verdict that reminded them of injustices faced by civil rights activists years ago.
“The Trayvon Martin verdict kind of took us back in the history books,” said Melody Williams, who helped coordinate the event.
About 5,000 to 7,500 people gathered at South Carolina’s State House on Saturday morning for one of more than 100 vigils held nationwide to remember the 17-year-old Florida teen killed by a neighborhood watchman last year.
Many marchers felt the killing could have happened in South Carolina – or even to them.
“It’s a local issue because we experience injustices on a daily basis,” said chief organizer Chris Sullivan, 22, of Columbia. “It’s a local issue because all of us are Trayvons.”
Singers and various speakers, including U.S. Congressman James Clyburn, led a rally on the State House grounds before the group gathered to march, holding hands with their arms crossed, to the Matthew J. Perry Federal Courthouse on Richland Street, off Assembly Street. The crowd eventually swelled to 7,500, Sullivan estimated.
Many among the crowd of all ages wore hoodies like the one worn by Martin the night he was killed while walking home from a convenience store.
One of those wearing a hoodie, Deatrix Zeigler, 42, of Swansea, held a poster with two photos of Martin Luther King Jr., one with him in a hoodie, with a quote about judging not by outward appearance but by content of character.
“A hoodie doesn’t make a character,” Zeigler said. “The person, the heart does.”
Columbia resident Jennifer Parker, 28, wore a T-shirt that said “You Only Live Once,” or, as the catchphrase is often pronounced, “YOLO.” She said she did not wear the shirt intentionally, but she said it did fit the occasion.
“Trayvon didn’t get the chance to live out his life,” Parker said.
The verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, tangled in the controversy surrounding Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, was announced shortly after a Columbia baker and mother of four, Kelly Hunnewell, was shot and killed by three young men, one of whom is 16. Two of the three were out on bond, accused of other violent crimes.
Williams said the march was for Hunnewell, too.
“It’s a march for people whose lives have been taken too soon,” Williams said. “It’s a march for injustice in general.”
Jamie Banks, from northeast Columbia, said the law is what matters. She walked with a sign that said, “Tweeting about it won’t bring a change.”
“We can talk about it all day long on social media, but we need to start talking to our congressmen and women,” Banks said.
Spring Valley High School student Jayohndra Price, 14, said the walk was powerful.
“We can make a change, we can make a difference, and we will stand our ground,” Price said.