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Florida teenager's hometown turns out in Miami protest

By David Adams

MIAMI (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters gathered in a downtown bayfront park on Sunday demanding the arrest of the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, in central Florida a month ago.

Civil rights leaders were joined by local politicians, pastors and Martin's parents, who made their first major public appearance in their hometown since last month.

Sunday's protest came a day after one of the largest demonstrations in Sanford, the central Florida town where Martin was killed.

A crowd of about 5,000 gathered in an amphitheater with a "Justice for Trayvon" poster behind the stage to hear speeches from civil rights leaders Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, as well as Martin's parents. Grammy Award-winning singers Chaka Khan and Betty Wright also attended.

Sharpton received a standing ovation when he called for the arrest of George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Martin with a semiautomatic handgun.

"I didn't come to Florida ... to convict Zimmerman. I didn't come to try Zimmerman," he said after questioning why the police were not able to find probable cause to make an arrest in the shooting and let the courts decide if a crime had been committed.

"I came to say, what is good for one, is good for all. Zimmerman, tell it to the judge," he added. "We cannot live in a nation where some of us go and are arrested on probable cause, and others are released because they told an improbable story."

Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, was in his car about to drive to a store on February 26, when he noticed Martin.

CASE HAS SPARKED PUBLIC OUTCRY

Zimmerman called 911 to report that Martin was wearing a hoodie sweatshirt and looked "suspicious" and followed him against the dispatcher's advice.

Martin was walking back to his father's fiancée's home after buying candy and iced tea.

Zimmerman later told police that he was walking back to his vehicle when Martin attacked him and that he fired his weapon in self-defense after he was punched in the nose, knocked down and had his head slammed against a sidewalk.

Police refused to arrest Zimmerman citing Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, which allows the use of lethal force outside the home when a reasonable threat is perceived.

The case has sparked a public outcry from celebrities, politicians, civil rights activists and ordinary citizens who believe Zimmerman judged Martin to be suspicious because of his skin color and should have been arrested for the shooting.

More than 2 million people have signed a petition on Change.org to demand justice in the case. President Barack Obama weighed in on the matter, comparing Martin to a son he might have had and calling for "soul searching" over how the incident occurred.

A special state prosecutor is examining the case and could decide as soon as this week whether charges should be filed. Federal investigators are looking into charges of racial bias.

Martin was visiting Sanford while serving a 10-day suspension from Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School in north Miami. His parents are divorced, but both still live in Miami. His mother is a county housing agency employee and his father is a truck driver.

'AM I DANGEROUS TOO?'

Martin was reportedly a good student and was taking after-school classes in the hopes of becoming an aviation mechanic.

At the rally, vendors sold $10 t-shirts with slogans such as "My hoodie does not make me a criminal," and "Hoodies don't kill, guns do," promising to contribute 30 percent of proceeds to the Martin family's legal fund.

Many in the crowd were mothers with their children, eager to show their solidarity with the Martin family.

Tania Richardson brought her four daughters. "I wanted to show my kids it could be one of them," she said. "I would want people to come out and support me in a time of need."

Ruth Jeannoe, 26, a Haitian American youth counselor who came with her sister and 3-year-old daughter, Jazzy. "It's not a black and white thing. It's a justice thing," she said. "I have this girl and I want her raised in a just and fair society."

She added that middle school students she counsels "talk about Trayvon a lot. They are scared. They didn't know this law exists," she added referring to Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law.

"Am I Dangerous Too?" 11-year-old Cazemba Ramirez, painted on a poster. "Trayvon was just minding his own business. So does that mean I am dangerous too because of my color?" he asked.

Betty Wright, a Grammy Award-winning R&B artist and Miami native treated the crowd to a rendition of a song, "Dry Well," written to honor her 21-year-old son, Patrick Parker, who was fatally shot in 2005. She dedicated the song to "all the Trayvons, and all the parents of slain black boys."

Turning to Martin's parents, she sang: "When you kill someone's one, it leaves a dry well ... We ain't going to let you suffer. We're going to get you justice."

(Reporting by David Adams; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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