ORLANDO, Fla. – More than 1,000 Floridians filled the streets of downtown Orlando Wednesday evening, joining cities like Los Angeles and New York City in hosting large-scale demonstrations to protest George Zimmerman's acquittal.
What was unique about the rally wasn't the turnout, though — it was that it took so long for it to come together. Martin supporters in California and New York began demonstrating on Sunday, the day after a Sanford, Fla., jury determined Zimmerman was not guilty of murder. But Wednesday's event was the first time this week that the masses came out to mourn Trayvon Martin in the state where he lived and died.
"People were just numb and in shock and they didn't know how to move forward," Shayan Modarres, who works on the Martins' legal team, told BuzzFeed.
Justice For Trayvon organizers and supporters needed time to process the verdict, but they also needed time to spread the word and make sure a rally could move forward peacefully, Modarres said. There needed to be coordination with local public safety officials too — something several smaller Florida demonstrations earlier this week lacked. For Wednesday's event, the Orlando Police Department shut down several streets around the county courthouse.
The march itself lasted about an hour, and it was clear from the onset that it would stay peaceful. Hundreds of children were in attendance, pushed in strollers or running in front of the crowd with their signs and Skittles.
"They want to try to get us out of control," one organizer said over the loudspeaker, referring to expectations that Martin supporters would riot if Zimmerman was acquitted. Then he started to lead the crowd in prayer.
Shanta Barton-Stubbs, director at New Image Youth Center in Orlando's Parramore district, brought more than a dozen kids with her to the rally — and enough adult volunteers to help out in case it got heated.
"The moment we heard about it, we knew we wanted to be here," she said. "This movement represents kids. Trayvon was just 17 years old."
After the march, a majority of the crowd migrated back to Lake Eola Park. Younger protesters broke off to feed the lake's swans, while a large group continued chanting various pro-Martin and anti-Zimmerman slogans, including one the organizers pushed from the beginning of the rally: "No justice, no sleep." It appeared though, by the end of the night, the slogan had changed — intentionally, or because people misheard the original version. Many in the crowd were instead chanting, "No justice, no peace."
Organizers said they want to plan a similar rally every summer. More central Florida events are also expected to be announced this week on the social media accounts of the Martin family's legal team, Modarres said.
Jessica Testa is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Jessica Testa at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.