Alvin Jackson, who along with others helped organize the protest, said Saturday that Zimmerman’s arrest is only part of a bigger issue. Jackson’s main goal now is to get Georgia’s “stand your ground” law overturned.
“There are many questions that have to be raised,” Jackson said. “And it took all this to get this far, so apparently it’s not over.”
More than a month passed between the death of Martin, who was shot and killed in February in Sanford, Fla., and the arrest. Jackson said he believes the investigation hasn’t been handled well since the beginning of the incident.
“We wouldn’t be here today if they’d arrested him in the beginning and done a thorough investigation. So that calls into question the police department’s handling of the case,” said Jackson.
Trenace Perkins, a rally attendee, said he fears that what happened in Florida could happen here in Georgia. He like others in the march donned hooded sweatshirts to show their solidarity with Martin’s family.
The wave of National Rifle Association-backed legislation that began seven years ago in Florida and continues to sweep the country has done more than establish citizens’ right to “stand your ground,” as supporters call the laws. It’s added second, third and even fourth chances for people who have used lethal force to avoid prosecution and conviction using the same argument, extra opportunities to keep their freedom that defendants accused of other crimes don’t get.
Martin’s shooting has unleashed a nationwide debate about the validity of these laws, which exist in some form in most of the country and which prosecutors and police have generally opposed as confusing, prone to abuse by criminals, and difficult to apply evenly. Others are concerned that the laws foster a vigilante, even trigger-happy mentality that might cause too many unnecessary deaths.
An Associated Press review of federal homicide data doesn’t seem to bear that out. Nationwide, the total number of justified homicides by citizens rose from 176 in 2000 to 325 in 2010. Totals for all homicides also rose slightly during the same period, but when adjusted for population growth, the rates actually dipped.
Ruth Demeter, who attended the march and has long promoted peace throughout Rome and Floyd County, said she can’t imagine the pain that Martin’s family must be going through.
“It scares me that I live in a state where this could happen,” she said. “I think all of us need to be scared. Because that could be my kid, or it could be Lavada’s kid.”
Rome’s Lavada Dillard said after the march that she believes people should not be so quick to rush to judgment.
“Any time you have someone in the neighborhood who sees something odd or different and arms themselves, and that person attacks another person for whatever reason, it’s because of fear,” she said.
Jackson reminded the gathered crowd that though Martin’s case represents a need to look at how justice is applied, no one should forget what the case is really about.
“The first thing you’ve got to do is think about Trayvon,” Jackson said. “Think about his family. Think about this young man at the age of 17 who will never see the light of day again. Think about how he died. Think about the circumstances.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.