Photos: Trayvon Martin rally at Long Beach courthouse
LONG BEACH - They didn't want a riot. They wanted a chance. That was one of several chants yelled Friday by dozens of protesters gathered outside the downtown courthouse for a rally against last weekend's acquittal of George Zimmerman in Florida.
"We aren't getting caught up in emotions," said Arlana Walton, "It's about what's true and right."
Walton, a 24-year-old Long Beach resident and graduate of Cal State Los Angeles, said she started organizing the protest immediately after the Zimmerman verdict, which has sparked rallies throughout the nation. Her group, called P.E.A.C.E. -- Protecting Everyone America Created Equality -- led the two-hour rally that started at noon.Last Saturday, jurors in Florida found Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, was acting in self-defense when he shot Martin, an unarmed black teenager, on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla. Protests over the killing and Zimmerman's acquittal are planned this weekend throughout Southern California.
There have been outbreaks of violence since the verdict at mostly peaceful rallies across the country. Dozens of people have been arrested for a variety of offenses. On July 9, a mob of more than 100 people -- mostly teenagers from outside the city -- damaged property and stole items from businesses in the Pike and CityPlace shopping centers in downtown Long Beach.
Friday's protest began with participants consuming free bags of Skittles candy and Arizona iced teas, items that Martin was carrying the night Zimmerman shot and killed him.
The crowd -- mostly black, with a handful of Latinos and whites of various ages -- gathered on the steps facing Ocean Boulevard in front of the downtown courthouse, holding signs that showed pictures of Martin, or wore shirts bearing his image that were offered for $10.
A man carrying a noose who identified himself only as "James" screamed "we want the freedom y'all got" and other charges of racism taking place in the South, in front of the peaceful crowd of about 70 demonstrators who called for "Justice for Trayvon" by waving signs, chanting and singing hymns.
"They lynched that boy," James said. "That boy got lynched, And the world needs to know they lynched Trayvon Martin. Yeah, they didn't use rope, they used a (9 millimeter), but it still did the same job. At at the end of the day, they all walked out smiling."
About 20 Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies looked on, while Long Beach police officers were parked about a block away.
Motorcycle police controlled traffic when the protesters walked the street.
Some motorists honked in support, but they were relatively few.
Lynn Jones, a 56-year-old Long Beach resident, attended the rally on her lunch break.
Jones said justice for Martin would have meant Zimmerman spending time in jail, or at least doing community service in a black neighborhood.
"It's a shame that you can take a child's life," Jones said. "What's your reason for it? My daddy taught me when you see trouble, flee. You go and take his life like an animal."
Those who protested Friday, like at other rallies around the country, contend Zimmerman, who identifies as Latino, profiled Martin because he was black.
The confrontation erupted in a gated community after Zimmerman followed Martin and notified the Sanford police that Martin, who was wearing a hoodie and returning in the rain from a convenience store, looked suspicious. There had been a spate of recent burglaries in the neighborhood.
A police dispatcher told Zimmerman to stop following Martin. Moments later, a violent encounter ensued, with Zimmerman claiming that Martin had attacked him.
Zimmerman, who had visible wounds on his face and head after the encounter, claims self-defense in shooting Martin with a handgun.
Those at Friday's protest -- which also called for the repeal of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law -- said Martin wouldn't be dead if Zimmerman hadn't profiled and followed him.
"Even if Trayvon did fight, he was fighting for his life," said Demetric Woodard, 17. "I think (Zimmerman) should've been found guilty."
The law allows for a person to use deadly force in self-defense if they believe their lives are in danger. Sanford's police chief cited the law for not initially arresting Zimmerman after the shooting.
While some say Martin should've hustled away when he saw Zimmerman following him, protesters said it would've made him appear more suspicious to Zimmerman, who already saw the teenager as a possible criminal.
Woodard said Martin was in a difficult position, because on the streets, it's not necessarily wise to turn one's back on a stranger, especially if he is carrying a weapon.
"I personally don't care about the race. He still shot the kid," Woodard said.