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Thousands seek 'Justice for Trayvon' at NYC rally

National Action Network members and speakers hold hands

National Action Network members and speakers hold hands in prayer for the "100-Justice for Trayvon" vigil at One Police Plaza in Manhattan. (July 20, 2013) Credit: Jeremy Bales

Trayvon Martin's mother, blinking back tears, urged thousands at a lower Manhattan rally Saturday to press for changes that would save other children from the fate of her 17-year-old son, who was shot dead by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

Sybrina Fulton -- appearing alongside her surviving son, Jahvaris Fulton, 22, the Rev. Al Sharpton and entertainers Jay-Z and Beyoncé -- wore a T-shirt depicting the African-American teenager in a hoodie, like the sweatshirt he wore the night he was killed during a confrontation with George Zimmerman.

The protest was one of about 100 "Justice for Trayvon" gatherings outside government buildings in cities nationwide, including Hempstead Village, to voice outrage over a Florida jury's verdict one week before that cleared Zimmerman on murder and manslaughter charges.

"I am Trayvon Martin," the crowd outside NYPD headquarters chanted.

Along with calling on the Justice Department to pursue a civil rights prosecution against Zimmerman, Sharpton urged the repeal of 'stand your ground' self-defense laws, like Florida's, that give civilians wide latitude to use deadly force against a perceived threat.

"We are trying to change laws so that this never, ever happens again," Sharpton said.

Fulton told them, "Not only do I vow to do what I can for Trayvon Martin, I promise you I'm going to work hard for your children as well." At a pre-rally gathering, she told supporters, "Today, it was my son. Tomorrow, it might be yours."

The teenager's father, Tracy Martin, spoke at a Miami vigil. "I will continue to fight for Trayvon until the day I die," he said.

Sharpton, whose National Action Network organized the rallies, said, "God chose this family to make a statement."

The vigils came a day after President Barack Obama, 51, lamented that "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago."

Zimmerman shot Martin dead Feb. 26, 2012, during a confrontation in a Sanford, Fla., gated community where neighbors had complained of burglaries. Zimmerman had been following Martin and reported to police dispatchers that he was acting suspiciously. In fact, Martin was not a criminal but had gone out for Skittles and iced tea.

Zimmerman has denied that he targeted Martin because of his race and said he was physically attacked by the teen before he shot him. Jurors sided with the defense. Martin's mother said they were wrong.

"George Zimmerman started the fight," she said, "and George Zimmerman ended the fight."

The vigil in Manhattan, under scorching heat, attracted a who's-who of New York political candidates. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who is running for city comptroller, stopped by a pre-protest rally at Sharpton's headquarters in Harlem.

"Justice here was denied," Spitzer said. "An innocent young man was shot and killed and that is a tragedy."

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the case and has not said publicly how it would decide.

Gloria Crawford, 69, of Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, carried a sign on which she had blacked out "NOT" from a tabloid newspaper headline reporting that Zimmerman had been found "NOT GUILTY."

"I believe that Trayvon didn't get any justice, and I'm going to advocate for justice," the retired secretary said.

With Ted Phillips, Aisha Al-Muslim and AP

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