They were black, white and Latino, male and female, old and young.
Some spoke with ease when they took the megaphone, their thoughts flowing neat and scholarly. Some boomed with outrage, like one Albany woman whose anger was so palpable her right hand shook the entire time she had the crowd’s attention.
Majestic Tillman stuttered when it was his turn to speak at one of many Justice for Trayvon rallies held across the nation Saturday. The 19-year-old spoke proudly and urgently Saturday, but mostly he spoke of his confusion over white America’s reaction to neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the fatal shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
“White people made the assumption that it wasn’t about race, and I feel like, how can you say that when you don’t face racism on a daily basis?” he said. “You have white privilege and we don’t. We sit there and we have to deal with so much more than you do, and for you to sit there and say, ‘Oh, it’s not about race.’ How would you know? You’re not our color. You’re not black. You’re not Spanish. You’re not a minority. So how can you say that?”
About 100 people gathered outside the federal courthouse in Albany to express their disappointment, outrage and demands for justice for Trayvon Martin.
Just one day earlier, President Barack Obama, son of a black father and white mother, spoke to reporters about the pain African Americans feel over the Zimmerman verdict. While the trial focused on legal issues only, the black community experienced the verdict through a set of experiences and history that “doesn’t go away,” he said.
What happened to Martin and its aftermath has shown an America that is still deeply divided along racial lines. Tillman, a black teenager who lives in one of Albany’s most diverse neighborhoods, struggled Saturday to verbalize the sorrow and confusion he felt that his “people” were being misunderstood and their anger cast aside.
They called out everything from racism and sexism to the National Rifle Association and so-called “stand your ground” laws. They urged each other and passersby to boycott Florida and its products, and demanded Zimmerman be re-arrested and have federal charges filed against him.
Victorio Reyes, director of the Social Justice Center of Albany, spoke of his own encounters with racism as a Latino, reminding the group racism doesn’t just come from the outside.
“The majority of us Latinos experience racism both historically and currently at the same level of black Americans,” he said. “That’s our reality. But we also have another reality, especially in our home country: We have light-skinned Latinos who perpetrate racism against darker ones.”
He wondered aloud why anyone is surprised by Zimmerman’s acquittal when the killers of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy who was tortured and killed in Mississippi in 1955 after supposedly flirting with a white woman, could go free or the man who shot and killed civil rights activist Medgar Evers lived most of his life a free man.
“This is not new,” said Reyes. “We’ve seen this movie. We’ve been watching this movie for the last 200 years. The irony is, we’re convinced something’s changed. Yet we have a criminal justice system that has more black men in chains in some capacity or another than ever were in slavery, and we’re sitting here while it’s happening.
“Once you’re on the other side of that wall, you are treated just the way that slaves were treated — with no rights, no sense of justice, no sense of humanity. And it is the belief that black Americans, dark brown Americans do not have humanity that is the basis for the killing of Trayvon Martin. This is the system that we live in.”
Frustration with the criminal justice system and law enforcement was voiced loudly at Saturday’s rally. Before the crowd marched down Broadway, Clinton Avenue and North Pearl Street chanting for justice, Winell Jones made sure everyone was awake and ready to make some noise.
A University at Albany graduate and substance abuse counselor, Jones urged participants not to leave the rally and forget the fight they had ahead of them.
“We all came out today to yell, to scream, to tell people that justice has been perverted,” she boomed into the megaphone. “These walls were not made to protect you and I. Let’s call it how we see it. But we have been taught or told to work within the confines of this justice system, when evidently we have seen it does not work.
The question is what are we going to do about it? We are going to fight. We will not be silent. We won’t allow our voices not to be heard. So today, hold your signs high. March with pride. Let them know there will be no rest. We will no longer sleep. We want justice. Real justice. And we are willing to do our part.”