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Crowds gather at City Hall to protest Zimmerman verdict

Peaceful event part of national protests organized by Al Sharpton
Carol Christia, Houston Chronicle
Updated 10:43 pm, Saturday, July 20, 2013

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  • Things got a little heated at the protest.

    Things got a little heated at the protest.

 

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Calling for a movement that goes beyond anger to produce genuine change in America's attitudes about race, an estimated 400 Houstonians gathered outside City Hall Saturday in response to the "not guilty" verdict in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

The peaceful gathering was part of a 100-city event organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, which called upon the U.S. Department of Justice to "take necessary action to mitigate the miscarriage of justice" in George Zimmerman's acquittal July 13.

A six-woman jury found the 29-year-old Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of teen who was walking home Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla.

Before the Houston rally began, a protester with a bullhorn got the audience fired up.

"Stop killing our black brothers," Vicki Richards of Houston shouted as she stood in the growing crowd.

"It's black brothers that can't walk down the street," Richards said, drawing agreement from those around her. "It's not about racism; it's about profiling."

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, who addressed the audience nearly an hour later, said Richards' remarks had touched her.

"We're here for grace and mercy," the congresswoman said.

The crowd grew quiet when she asked for a moment of silence for Martin, whom she described as a child of 16 years and 21 days.

Even the dozen or so counter-protesters behind a barrier stopped shouting during the silent moment.

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church, said he was not in the jury box but wanted to present three facts: Zimmerman was told to stay in the car. When he got out of the car anyway, he was carrying a gun. He shot Martin in the chest.

"If he was genuinely interested in community civility he wouldn't have been packing," Caldwell said.

Bishop James W.E. Dixon II, regional director of National Action Network and pastor at The Community of Faith, said the outcome leaves it unclear what advice to give young black men.

"Do you walk down the street? What do you do if someone stops you? What do you do if someone is staring at you?" Dixon said.

One conclusion he's drawn, Dixon said, is that black youth can't count on being treated fairly in the courts.

Mansoor Mahmood, 27, a Houston resident who grew up in West University Place, said he came to the rally because it was a rare opportunity to be part of a larger movement.

"As someone who has been stereotyped, profiled, stalked and harassed, I can see how I could have been in a similar situation (to Martin's)," said Mahmood, who describes himself as "mixed race" and identifies as black.

"Seeing how there's no protection from the police and no protection from the justice system, something has to change for my life to be taken seriously," he said.

Christina Allen-Crowder, a school administrator, said she also saw a need for a movement beyond one day's protest.

"There's something more that can be done from this beside just being angry and disagreeing with the verdict," said Allen-Crowder, a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, which works to improve people's lives worldwide.