Updated Tue, Jul 23, 2013 10:41 am
Athens joined dozens of other U.S. cities in urging for some form of justice for Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teen shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Florida.
One week after a jury found Zimmerman innocent in Martin’s death, people began to gather for nationwide rallies and vigils. In Athens, as part of the regular peace and justice vigil hosted by United Campus Ministries, close to two dozen community members from around the region gathered near the Athens County Common Pleas Courthouse on Monday afternoon under the light drizzle and gray skies.
“I wasn’t upset with the verdict so much,” said Gordon Briggs, 32, of Athens. “I was upset with what happened. I can see the argument for the verdict because the evidence was so murky. But if you can be shot for not doing anything, or just be put under suspicion, what can you do?”
Zimmerman did not invoke Florida’s stand-your-ground law, instead relying on a traditional self-defense argument. Nor was race discussed in front of the jury that acquitted Zimmerman. But the two topics have dominated public discourse about the case and came up with several vigil participants. Briggs went on to say he identified closely with President Barack Obama’s remarks from Friday.
“I’m a black guy, and I weigh close to 300 pounds,” Briggs continued. “When you look a certain way, you constantly have to monitor how you walk and how you talk sometimes. Just being a black guy makes some people associate you with being a criminal.”
It’s not uncommon, Briggs said, for parents of African-American children to warn them of how other people might perceive them. Briggs said he recalled getting that talk from his parents when he was just 11 years old.
“African Americans from a certain generation told you about segregation,” he added. “This generation, parents have a talk with you, and say, ‘If you’re stopped by the police, this is what you do.’”
Kari Gunter-Seymour, 58, of Albany, held a sign with a quote from Greg Brewer, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida. It read, “I want to live in a world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon Martin a ride home to get him out of the rain that night.”
“I was very emotionally moved by the verdict,” Gunter-Seymour said. “I think we need to expect more of (our representatives) to change these laws that are so loose and slanted against people of color, or people of low income or people of low education.”
“I’m also a mom,” she continued. “I can’t imagine any mom in the world would not have mixed emotions about both of the men involved in that incident. It’s ruined many many lives.”
Patrick Gordon, 50, of Athens, held a sign that read “Responsible gun owner for justice.”
“I’m really disgusted that this man got away with murder,” Gordon said. “They need to review the stand-your-ground laws. If you bring a gun into a situation where no gun was present, the situation is automatically accelerated.”
The only time to get out a gun, he added, is to save a life — not to protect property.
“I’m hoping to bring some justice to the situation, and maybe the next kid won’t get shot,”