RED BANK — “We are Trayvon Martin,” was the repeated refrain as a crowd of about 200 gathered on Monday evening on the borough’s west side.
The crowd was a mix of young and old, black and white. Most of the participants wore hooded sweatshirts—“hoodies”—and some held bags of Skittles candy. Hoodies and the candy have become symbols of the February killing in Sanford, Florida, of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed African American youth.
Martin’s death ignited a national debate, and many are alleging the teen was killed because of his clothes and race, and that local law enforcement failed to respond properly because the victim was a black youth.
Martin, according to media reports, was unarmed, wearing a hoodie and carrying a bag of Skittles and a soft drink when he was shot by Zimmerman, a member of a local community watch patrol. The shooter told police he acted in self-defense and was not charged with a crime.
“We as African Americans want to make sure we support the family of Trayvon Martin,” said Darnell Lewis, who organized the event at the pocket park on the corner of Shrewsbury Avenue and Drs. James Parker Boulevard. Lewis pointed to a group of teens that gathered before the event began at 6:30 p.m. “All these guys back here,” he said, “that’s what it’s all about: young people.”
Lewis, 34, a Leighton Ave. resident, grew up in Red Bank and lived in Delaware for about 17 years before returning to live in the borough. He worked for educational and community not-for-profit organizations and founded I.M.P.A.C.T., an organization that provides mentoring for young, at-risk men.
Lewis said previously the Martin incident struck home for him, as it has for many, and he hoped to encourage further dialogue about what is happening on American streets and what it means for young black men.
The Florida shooting appeared to strike a nerve, too, with those who gathered on the west side corner.
Norman C. Mooney, an 82-year-old Long Branch resident, also wearing a hoodie, said he was there to support “freedom and justice.”
“To end the violence, right?” he said. “Surely, goodness will win over evil,” he said, but his voice betrayed some doubt.
As a black man of his age, he said he has seen and experienced things he hopes younger generations could avoid. And asked if race relations have improved, he answered, “not drastically. Small ways.”
“There’s always room for improvement,’ Mooney said.
“I feel there needs to be more justice in the case of Trayvon Martin,” said Milton Hill, Tinton Falls.
“There should be an investigation,” Hill said. “Justice should be done for everybody, regardless of race, creed or color.”
Nacier Roundtree, 16, lives in Maryland, though he is from Red Bank. He said he was here visiting while on spring break and decided to attend. “It’s like opening up everybody’s eyes,” he said of the assembly. “Justice should be served.”
“I think there is a lot of racism going in the world today,” offered Kahalia Johnson, a 15-year-old from Freehold, standing with Roundtree.
“If it was the other way around, Trayvon would be in jail,” Roundtree said.
“This is the first step of what’s to come,” said Linda Clark, a borough resident who founded the Count the Children Movement, a local community organization. “It’s not going away and I don’t want it to go away,” she said. “This is about us helping others and gaining awareness.”
“I think people are taking away a lot of awareness,” said Kadayjah Smith, 17, Red Bank.
“And let’s hope that people realize that life is given, not taken,” offered 16-year-old Red Bank resident James Cross.
The mostly silent vigil included some brief comments from Borough Councilwoman Sharon Lee, prayers from local clergy and the final chants of “I’m Trayvon Martin” and “No Justice, No Peace,” from some in the crowd.
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