Peaceful march for Trayvon Martin met by heavy police presence

Trayvon Martin rally
(Steve Kilar)

There were at least as many police officers as protesters in front of City Hall on Tuesday evening after a group of about 40 people walked there from the site of a planned youth jail in downtown Baltimore.

"It's screwed up," said community activist Kim Trueheart of the police presence. "It's a function of not wanting to understand that having a conversation is an important step in healing, solving problems and communicating."

The rally was organized to call attention to the death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed African-American who was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer named George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., at the end of February.

"Better to have more [officers] and not need them than not have enough," police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said after Tuesday's rally.

Two weeks ago, about 1,200 people marched from McKeldin Square to City Hall to call attention to the Martin death. During the march, police had to shut down Pratt Street to accommodate the crowd.

Several speakers Tuesday directly addressed the Baltimore police officers standing guard at the event. Over a portable amplifier, they raised the issues of racial profiling and the city's spending priorities.

"It offends me that this is how they choose to communicate," said Trueheart.

Police stationed behind temporary fences that cordoned off the parking area in front of City Hall had plastic handcuffs hanging from their belts. Clumps of uniformed officers, on foot and horseback, were stationed on street corners surrounding the plaza between North Gay and North Holliday streets.

The rally was originally organized to observe the first day a Florida grand jury was scheduled to convene in order to determine if charges should be brought against Zimmerman, said organizer Sharon Black, of the group Justice 4 Trayvon Martin.

But on Monday, special prosecutor Angela Corey decided not summon a grand jury in the case.

Corey announced that she alone would determine whether to charge Zimmerman. That judgment eliminates the possibility that Zimmerman will be tried for first-degree murder, which requires a grand jury indictment.

Instead of canceling Tuesday's rally, Black said, the meeting evolved into an organizing session, where announcements would be made about upcoming events.

On April 22, the group plans to march to the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., she said. They're also expecting to gather in downtown Baltimore when Corey announces whether Zimmerman will be charged, Black said.

The group never planned civil disobedience or illegal activity that would have required such a heavy police presence, she said.

"We were a little nonplused" to see all of the officers upon arriving at City Hall, said Black.

The number of officers was precautionary, in anticipation of the possibility of a larger crowd, said Guglielmi. It was not in response to any specific piece of intelligence that suggested a problem might arise, he said.