Standing on top of a white rectangular cement block in front of the water fountains at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, Life Malcolm spoke loudly and passionately into a megaphone about the value of black life. "The reality is there is no value of African life in this country," said Malcolm, 38, speaking to about 200 people gathered about 20 hours after a jury in Sanford found George Zimmerman not guilty in the February 2011 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Every few minutes, a car would drive south on Ashley Drive, its occupants honking and waiving at the demonstrators, many who held signs reading "Justice 4 Trayvon" and "End Racial Oppression." The rally, organized by The Coalition for Justice for Trayvon, brought together a diverse crowd of blacks, whites, Latinos, young and old, men and women.
There was anger at the verdict, cries of racial inequity and calls for justice. Marisol Marquez, who helped organize the rally, said the Zimmerman acquittal was endemic of a justice system "that works against people of color." "We are going to protest for justice since the government system won't bring us justice," said Marquez, 26, who just returned to Tampa from Sanford, where she was among those demonstrating against Zimmerman as the jury deliberated and later after they reached their verdict. At one point, Malcolm, 38, a member of a group called the Black Peoples Advancement & Defense Organization, compared the Zimmerman verdict with the cases of Jennifer Porter - a white woman who served house arrest and probation after killing two black children with her car then fleeing - and Michael Vick, the black NFL quarterback who served jail time for killing dogs. "Jennifer Porter didn't serve a day in jail while Michael Vick, a rich Negro, went to jail for killing six or eight dogs," said Malcolm, who has the word "DEATH" spelled out in bullet shells tattooed on his left arm and the word "LIFE" written in bullet shells tattooed on his right. "Look at the juxtaposition of those two sentences." The failure of the jury to convict Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, in the killing of Martin, a black teen, is a sign that the "system is broken," said Malcolm, echoing many others at the rally. Then he urged action. "As Malcolm X said, a hand for a hand and a life for a life," Malcolm said, "That's balance. What's a life worth? A life is worth a life, We have to make it clear that if one of us is killed, then a life is required. You can't just get off Scott free, I guarantee you when that equation becomes balanced, we'll see fewer and fewer of us killed." After climbing off the barrier, Malcolm explained that "I'm not calling for violence for violence sake, but I want to make it clear that an African life is worth a white life and any other human life." After a few more speakers took turns at the megaphone, the protestors marched to the Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse, calling for locals to join a national protest movement. Protests are planned around the country after the case unleashed debate across the U.S. over racial profiling, self-defense and equal justice. After the verdict, some angry protesters in Oakland, Calif., broke windows, burned flags and started small street fires. In Tallahassee, about 200 demonstrators marched carrying signs that said "Racism is Not Dead" and "Who's Next?" As Marquez and other speakers excoriated the jury's decision, Teresa Keeys stood on the sidewalk by Florida Street, quietly holding a sign that said "Trayvon Martin is my son" and a bag with a picture of her son. Perhaps more than anyone else in the crowd, Keeys, 47, could feel the pain of Martin's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. On the day Martin was killed while walking through a Sanford subdivision, Christopher Keeys was gunned down in Philadelphia. He was shot three times and died at the age of 26. Keeys said she had to move to Tampa to escape the memories of her son. While Keeys, who is black, believes her son's killer is also black, she said ultimately race doesn't matter when a life is taken. "Justice matters," she said. "If blood is left on someone's hands, you should be held accountable. George Zimmerman should be held accountable in Trayvon Martin's death." The Associated Press contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7629