SANFORD, Fla. (CBSMiami) –Thousands of protesters from around the country descended on Sanford, Florida Thursday evening to rally for the late Trayvon Martin, 17, who was gunned down by a neighborhood watchman who said he was acting in self-defense.
The rally was initially going to take place in a 400-seat church, but was later moved to Fort Mellon Park in downtown Sanford to accommodate the large crowd that showed up.
“I stand before you today not knowing how I am walking right now because my heart hurts for my son,” Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton told the crowd. “Trayvon is my son. Trayvon is your son. Thanks so much for your support.”
Civil rights leader the Reverend Al Sharpton was among the numerous speakers who were demanding justice for Trayvon and the arrest of George Zimmerman, who has admitted shooting and killing Martin.
“Hey Florida you thought it was hot? The heat just arrived,” Sharpton told the crowd. “We don’t want just good. We want to see Zimmerman in court with handcuffs behind his back charged with the death of this young man Trayvon Martin.”
“Zimmerman should have been arrested that night. You can’t defend yourself against a pack of Skittles and iced tea,” Sharpton said.
“I have a 14-year-old son. It scares me, I don’t even let my son walk out in the street,” said Miami resident Alberta Jean Simon. “I can only imagine her pain.”
A separate rally was held in Atlanta where more than 100 people gathered at a local church to protest Martin’s death and the investigation of the death.
According to WSB Radio, Atlanta City Councilman Derrick Boazman was among the leaders of the group that met in Atlanta.
“Trayvon was a people’s person and I pledge I will not let my son die in vain,” Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, told the Sanford crowd.
The massive Sanford rally came just hours after Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee announced that he would be “temporarily step down” from his job due to the fallout from the Trayvon Martin case.
Lee made the announcement at a Thursday afternoon press conference. But, he refused to back down from how the investigation has turned out in the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
“While I stand by the Sanford Police Department, its personnel, and the investigation that was conducted in regards to the Trayvon martin death, it is apparent that my involvement in this matter is over shadowing the process,” Lee said Thursday.
“Therefore, I have come to the decision that I must temporarily remove myself from the position as police chief to the city of Sanford,” Lee continued.
Lee’s actions came less than 24 hours after the Sanford City Council approved a no-confidence vote for the chief. Chief Lee had been on the job just 10 months before the Trayvon Martin murder and investigation began to come apart.
Lee said his actions Thursday were for the community and to move things forward with the case.
“I do this in the hopes of restoring some symbol and calm to the city which has been in turmoil for several weeks,” Lee said. “As the chief of police of the city of Sanford, I made sure that the facts of this case have been presented to the office of the state attorney. It is my hope the investigation process moves swiftly and appropriately through the justice system and that final determination in this case is reached.”
But it’s the facts that Lee originally put forth in the case that have come into question as the case has come apart. Lee originally said the shooter, George Zimmerman, had no criminal record, even though he had been arrested before, but beat the charges.
That was just one of the inconsistencies that has led thousands to come to Sanford in advance of a protest Thursday evening that will feature the Reverend Al Sharpton.
Sanford city manager Norton Bonaparte, Jr. said he would wait for an independent investigation before making a decision on the chief, CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald reported.