By Jerriann Sullivan and Desiree Stennett, Orlando Sentinel
1:03 PM EDT, July 23, 2013
They are frightened, frustrated and fuming. They gathered under a blazing sun in Central Florida and across the country Saturday with common fears, worried their child will be the next Trayvon Martin.
A week after a Sanford jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of murder in the death of the 17-year-old in a racially charged case that has divided the nation, thousands gathered in the summer heat outside federal courthouses and other locations across the country in a call for peace, justice and equality.
"The system did not work for Trayvon Martin. We are calling on the Department of Justice to take action," Temia Brinson, president of the National Action Network Orlando Chapter, said outside Orlando's federal courthouse.
More than 500 people gathered in front of the George C. Young Federal Building and Courthouse on Central Boulevard at noon Saturday.
Many carried signs calling for "Justice for Trayvon." Others brought Skittles and AriZona Iced Tea, symbols of what they described as Trayvon's innocence.
Trayvon had the candy and soft drink with him when Zimmerman fatally shot him in February 2012 in Sanford.
"It could have been one of my boys. It makes me scared for them," Melinda O'Neal said while fighting back tears in Orlando. "Florida is a beautiful state, but the laws are screwed up."
The Deltona mother of three boys of mixed races brought her sons to the vigil because she considers Trayvon's death and the protests surrounding the verdict historic.
Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, said he acted in self-defense when he shot the unarmed black teen, saying Trayvon attacked him.
Zimmerman was acquitted July 13 by a six-member Seminole County jury, a decision that has prompted demonstrations in Sanford, Orlando and major cities across the U.S., including violence in Oakland and Los Angeles.
The National Action Network, a civil-rights organization founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, organized Saturday's nationwide event to call on communities to pray for justice.
Gospel music played and pastors offered prayers asking for the elimination of racial disparity in the United States.
"We are sick and tired of injustice," said Orlando City Commissioner Samuel Ings.
Kimberly Currie of Orlando brought voter-registration forms to the event. "I want everyone to start registering and becoming voters at the polls not only in presidential [elections] but in local elections as well," she said.
She was angry and saddened by what happened and thinks her own 23-year-old son could have been in the same position as Trayvon. "I came out here today because I feel in order to make change, you have to show support," Currie said.
A mixed-race couple from Switzerland, in Orlando for a family member's birthday, said they came to the vigil to show support for the Martin family and try to understand how the jurors came to their conclusion.
"I can't understand how a democratic country can do this," said Franz Aldisser, 51.
Aldisser is white and his wife, Lori Garrett, 50, is black. Garrett lived in Florida until 1999 and returns often to visit her family.
"There are just so many injustices here," Garrett said. "I am hopeful, though, because you see all types of people coming together."
One Zimmerman supporter staged his own protest. Holding a sign that read "Al Sharpton: The 'Cracker' Attacker," Casey David Kole Sr., 66, of Orlando, said: "I feel like these poor people are being manipulated by Sharpton."
Sharpton "has over 100 events going on and he's just trying to incite violence," said Kole.
After the vigil, supporters moved to the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist International Church a few blocks away on West Washington Street for an open forum with elected officials.
Attorneys were present to take questions from the audience about the state's self-defense laws.
In New York, hundreds of people gathered, including rapper Jay-Z and his wife, singer Beyonce, to hear speeches from Sharpton and Trayvon's mother, Sybrina Fulton.
In Miami, a crowd gathered around Trayvon's father, Tracy Martin, singing the civil-rights anthem "We Shall Overcome."
Between 75 and 100 people marched from Crooms Academy of Information Technology down Historic Goldsboro Boulevard to the Sanford Police Department starting about noon Saturday, said Capt. James McAuliffe, a police spokesman.
Some pastors and others spoke during the event, which lasted about two hours.
"It was very peaceful," McAuliffe said.
Staff writer Susan Jacobson contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5620 or @jerriannOS, email@example.com or 407-420-5447 or @desi_stennett
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