By STACEY PLAISANCE
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ A crowd of hundreds sang gospel hymns, clapping and swaying with hands outstretched, at the opening of a rally in New Orleans one week after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.
In a city plagued by violence, the death of Martin and subsequent acquittal of Zimmerman, hit an emotional chord. The city was one of 100 across the country that hosted rallies Saturday organized by Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. The “Justice for Trayvon” rallies were held outside federal buildings.
In New Orleans, standing on the steps of the U.S. District Courthouse, some found comfort in song.
“Lord you are awesome … don’t know where I’d be without you,” the crowd sang, holding signs that read: “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and “Enough Is Enough.”
A number of young black males held signs that read: “I am Trayvon Martin” and “Am I Next?”
The rallies are intended to press for civil rights charges against Zimmerman.
La’Monte Johnson, a 22-year-old Compton, Calif., native who now lives in New Orleans, was at the rally because he said the incident has been painful.
“It hurts, in my gut, in my spirit, it hurts,” he said.
Johnson said he grew up being racially profiled by law enforcement officials. He said he’s been repeatedly handcuffed and thrown into the back of squad cars since his teenage years, but yet he’s never been arrested or had any charges filed against him.
“You can be the greatest black guy around, but you can’t get away from it,” he said. “You’re not equal.”
Johnson said he’s been stopped multiple times by police “because I fit the description of someone they were looking for.”
After high school, Johnson went on to serve a three-year stint in the Army National Guard. At 21, he moved to New Orleans to help his ailing grandmother and work for his father, who runs a clothing store in New Orleans.
Johnson said even in New Orleans, he’s been stopped by police officers, but not as often since he doesn’t drive as much now that he’s in the a more walkable city.
“Thank goodness,” he said. “It really hurts to have that happen to you.”
Johnson and friends were at the rally selling “Justice for Trayvon Martin” T-shirts.
“We wanted to help create some unity, to help show everybody coming together,” he said.
The rally drew some white supporters.
Nicole Albritton, a white 29-year-old pre-law student and mother of four young children, including one son, got choked with emotion as she talked about why she was at the rally.
“I teach my kids to fight against predators,” she said. “We teach our kids to fight back, and this case shows that they could be killed doing so. He was a child. He was an unarmed child. We put the victim on trial, not George Zimmerman. This is so heavy on my heart.”
Albritton, a freshman pre-law student at Our Lady of Holy Cross College in New Orleans, said laws need to be changed after Zimmerman’s acquittal.
“Stalking is a crime,” she said. “If you look at the facts and look at Zimmerman’s history of violence and racism, you see he is a violent and racist person, and the jury was not allowed to see that.”
The crowd chanted “No Justice, No Peace” as a series of speakers addressed the crowd by microphone. Among the speakers was former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.
Morial led the crowd in a chant of “Justice! Justice! Justice! … Now! Now! Now!”
Morial said the Florida criminal justice system failed Martin.
“Florida has a law, stand your ground. I call it shoot to kill,” he said. “It supports that, if someone picks a fight, they can be protected with that law.
“Repeal that law!” he shouted.