What started earlier this week as a plan by a few Harvard students to hold a demonstration about the fatal shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin turned into a large protest drawing more than 200 people to Harvard Square Thursday night.
The crowd that assembled in the area known as “The Pit” in the square chanted “We are Trayvon Martin, I am Trayvon Martin,” in an effort to raise local awareness about the death of the unarmed teen last month.
Okeoma Nwakanma, a 20-year-old Harvard student who was one of the protest organizers, said interest in the event took off after the students set up a Facebook page Tuesday to publicize the event.
“It just gained so much momentum, I think because it’s an issue that people can rally around because it’s not just about color it’s about social justice,” said Nwakanma, who is president of the Harvard African Students Association.
Martin, who was 17, was unarmed when he was shot to death Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman claims the shooting was self defense and has not been charged. The death of the black teen at the hands of Zimmerman, whose father is white and his mother is Peruvian, has prompted protests by civil rights groups that are now calling for Zimmerman’s arrest.
Martin’s parents have also started an online petition on Change.org demanding Zimmerman’s arrest, and the case has inspired rallies from Florida to New York City this week.
The U.S. Justice Department is now looking into the case, and Friday President Barack Obama called the case a tragedy that needs to be thoroughly investigated.
“If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon,” the president said. “And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
In Harvard Square Thursday night, Cambridge Police estimated that between 200 and 250 people joined the demonstration, and the rally was peaceful with no arrests, said spokesman Dan Riviello.
Demonstrators were encouraged to wear “hoodie” sweatshirts to the square and bring a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea, which was all Martin was carrying when he was killed.
Nwakanma said a handful of leaders of Harvard’s black community were trying to organize a visual protest because in discussions this week they realized that not all of their peers were aware of the case.
The Facebook page set up to publicize the event quickly garnered the support of more than 600 people, and by Thursday night Nwakanma said the rally had turned into a Greater Boston event with people from Occupy Boston joining in.
The protest included singing, the spoken word and several impromptu speeches.
“It was actually pretty powerful,” Nwakanma said.
In addition to calling for Zimmerman to be held accountable for the shooting, Nwakanma said organizers wanted to raise objections to the “Stand Your Ground Law” in Florida
which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight.
Nwakanma said she and several students at Harvard are now trying to decide what they will do next to continue their protest over the Martin case.
--This story includes information from Associated Press reports.
--Brock Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org