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The Baltimore Sun

More than 400 attend Columbia vigil for Trayvon Martin

Their message was in their medium. They gathered in a large group, clad in hoodies, standing in solidarity, dressed like the fallen teen.

In a town founded on and lauded for its diversity, they spoke of how what happened to Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26 could have happened to anyone and could have happened anywhere.

"Many of us, as parents, feel what the Martin family is feeling because Trayvon could've been one of our children," said the Rev. Robert Turner, pastor at St. John Baptist Church, at a prayer vigil Monday evening that attracted some 400 people to his Long Reach church.

"Our young children are wearing hoodies because they recognize that Trayvon could've been one of them," said Turner, president of the African American Coalition of Howard County, which organized the vigil. "We're wearing hoodies in symbolic unity to call for justice."

Deidre Sykes sat in a church pew with her teenage son, J.D., to her left and her 11-year-old daughter, Jaidyn, to her right, all three wearing hoodies. She drew a comparison between J.D. and Martin, who was 17.

"This is my son. My son is 17," Sykes said. "Living in Columbia you don't think this kind of thing would happen, but I wanted to bring my kids out and enlighten them to the world, unfortunately."

Sykes and her kids were among the overflow crowd — an overwhelming majority of whom were wearing hoodies.

"The kids in the community are very concerned about this, and parents are concerned," coalition member Sherman Howell said before the vigil.

J.D. Sykes, a senior at Wilde Lake, said the death of Trayvon Martin was "eye-opening" to him.

"This kind of thing could happen to me," he said. "There's danger in every corner, and just going to your friend's house, to school, you could possibly be targeted."

Martin was wearing a hoodie and carrying a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea when he drew the suspicion of neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman.

Zimmerman has said he followed Martin because he did not recognize the teen and because of recent burglaries in the area. The 28-year-old man told police he shot Martin in self-defense after being attacked, citing Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law.

Martin and his father were visiting his father's girlfriend, who lived in that neighborhood.

On Monday, a special prosecutor looking into the case said she would not be seeking a grand jury indictment against Zimmerman, eliminating the possibility of a first-degree murder charge. However, Angela Corey said she could still seek charges against Zimmerman. The case remains under investigation.

'I am Trayvon'

Danielle Hunley, a 13-year-old from Hanover, sat in a rear row of the church, allowing the sign attached to the back of her hoodie to be seen clearly: "I Am Trayvon Martin."

She had a purple packet of Wild Berry Skittles and a green bottle of Arizona Green Tea.

"He shouldn't have died," she said. "He was innocent. He was a good person. He really didn't do anything. All he was doing was going home."

Nashiya Mabery, who was seated next to Hunley, said she was worried that race makes others a target.

"I feel like me being an African American is a discouragement," said the 15-year-old Hanover resident. "Just because we're black, they get to shoot us, and that's not right."

Before the vigil officially began, a group of youth walked into the church, carrying signs and chanting: "No justice, no peace!"

Several speakers during the evening quoted the words ofMartin Luther King Jr.: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Many called for justice.

"Trayvon was killed more than four weeks ago. His killer is still walking the streets," said Anasia Wharton, a junior at Hammond High School and president of the county's NAACP Youth Council.

"Jesus came to bring peace, but when he found unrighteousness, he kicked it up a notch," added Bowyer Freeman, a Howard County resident and pastor of New St. Mark Baptist Church in Baltimore.

Howell had stressed before the event that what happened to Trayvon Martin and to others elsewhere shouldn't just concern people of certain races.

"I'm hoping that we see it not just as an issue affecting blacks and minorities," he said. "We're hoping that the white community understands that there's a need for soul searching, and we're hoping that they join us. That's the key thing, if we can get the understanding through the community that this kind of act is not warranted, and that black people should not expect this."

Among those who joined the vigil Monday were Rabbi Susan Grossman of the Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin.

Cardin called for an end to racial profiling. Later, national NAACP board member Don Cash asked for a boycott of companies that supported legislative efforts to pass "Stand Your Ground" laws.

Gerald Stansbury, the state NAACP president, said community members shouldn't just protest the killing of a black teen by a white man, but should also bring an end to "black on black crime."

Rev. Turner said "we still have work to do" in a country where "a young man can be reported as looking suspicious just because he's black, just because he's wearing a hoodie, just because he's walking the street at night.

"People are still being judged by the color of their skin and not by the content of their character," he said. "This isn't just a black issue. This is an American issue. And if we're going to resolve this issue, we're going to do it together."

As the vigil came to an end, the group sang a familiar protest song from the Civil Rights Movement: "We Shall Overcome."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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