Dozens stood at the corner of Walton Way and James Brown Boulevard on Saturday with neon-colored signs with “Stop the violence” scrawled across them in black ink.
Behind them, a crowd of several hundred was forming at the footsteps of the Augusta-Richmond County Judicial Center for a rally called for after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
“Although we respect the jurisprudence decision, this nation as a whole is protesting the outcome based on the fact a young man was shot and killed,” Charles J. Smith Sr., the president of Augusta’s NAACP branch, told the crowd. “This is why we feel like (Zimmerman) should have been found guilty.”
Speakers took turns at the microphone, standing in the shadow of the Lady Justice statue.
Shirley Nixon, of Augusta, navigated the crowd with voter registration cards tucked under one arm. She carried a megaphone in the other, reminding attendees that voting is one way to make a difference. Nixon said 50 people had registered to vote by noon.
“If they register to vote, they can have a say in what goes on,” she said.
Across the way, ralliers pushed through the crowd to buy shirts displaying a picture of a hooded Martin. Neichole Wimberly, of Augusta, said the shirts, which resemble a boxing poster, show the verdict was only round No. 1 of the fight for justice, with round No. 2 requiring support from the community.
“I don’t feel like nobody – white, black, Puerto Rican – should walk free after committing a crime,” said Wimberly, who was selling the shirts. “Somebody has to do something. Somebody has to push the laws.”
Christa Freeman, a law student from Augusta, said the rally was meant to call on the support of the community and to address issues at home so that other such incidents won’t happen in the future.
“Trayvon is a child of America, not just black America,” she said. “Today is just a start, of course. The verdict was just announced last Saturday, so we are just now starting to mobilize.”
Shari Collier, whose 27-year-old son was slain in 2010, said she can sympathize with Martin’s family. She said she hopes the rally will bring justice for everyone.
“This is not a black issue,” Collier said. “This is a people issue.”
At a community forum at Williams Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, eight panelists covered topics from Florida’s “stand your ground” law to involvment in the Augusta community.
Tubman Education Center Principal Wayne Frazier, one of the panelists, challenged parents to take a more active role in the lives of their children.
“We profile our own children,” he said. “How do you think other people are going to feel when we profile our own children? We’re trying to get our children to do things we don’t do.”
After being recognized by a few members in the crowd, state Sen. Hardie Davis made his way to the front to offer some final thoughts.
“I don’t run from issues like this,” he said. “Where do we go from here? What are you going to do about it? It’s going to take you rolling up your sleeves in this community.”