Civil rights groups, college students and public officials called for an end to stand-your-ground laws, warning they feared those laws could pose a menace in Georgia and 20 other states where such measures are on the books.
The crowd spilled into the street, snarling rush hour traffic downtown as many protesters wore hoodies and carried Skittles in honor of the slain 17-year-old youth, Trayvon Martin.
Authorities say Martin was shot Feb. 26 by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old who said he was acting in self-defense and hasn’t been arrested. The unarmed Martin was returning from buying candy at a convenience store in a Sanford, Fla., neighborhood when the shooting occurred.
“I just wanted to show my support the best way I knew how,” said 22-year-old Clark Atlanta University senior Carmen Ellis, before the two-hour rally started. “This is the least I can do, stand out here in 80-degree weather with a hoodie on and make sure people know I’m standing for justice and what’s right.”
Black state lawmakers in attendance vowed to introduce legislation to repeal Georgia’s stand-your-ground law. Any bill introduced this week would have to be taken up next year because the legislative session ends Thursday.
The GOP-led Legislature is mulling a number of gun bills this session, including measures that would allow 18-year-olds to receive concealed weapon permits and would let people hunt with silenced firearms.
“Some of my colleagues will not understand why we want to stop these gun laws, but you see they don’t have to have the conversation that black mothers have to have with their black sons every day,” said state Rep. Alisha Morgan, a Democrat from Austell. “They don’t have to go to funerals of teenage boys who have been shot in their own communities.”
The crowd at the rally in downtown Atlanta chanted “I am Trayvon!” and “Arrest Zimmerman now!” The protest ended with the crowd linking hands and singing, We Shall Overcome.
Similar rallies have been held across the country since Martin’s death a month ago. The shooting has struck a chord in Atlanta, which has the largest concentration of historically black colleges in the country.
Students from Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University spoke at the rally, encouraging their fellow students to talk to their lawmakers about gun laws. Students wore hoodies that said, “I am Trayvon Martin” and lofted signs reading, “Don’t shoot!” and “I could be next.”
“We’re humans, and even more so, we’re American citizens, and we have the expectation that justice will be delivered,” said Ronnie Mosley, 20, a student at Morehouse who helped organize the rally. “We have to stand our ground on issues like this, especially when election time comes.”