The recent not-guilty verdict that exonerated neighborhood-watch captain George Zimmerman in the 2012 Sanford, Fla., shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was not lost on the residents of Liberty County. They came out by the hundreds Sunday night to remember the teen, who, for many, has become a symbol of inequality in the justice system.
The vigil, held on the steps of the Liberty County Justice Center, drew an estimated 200 residents, who listened to elected officials and members of the NAACP. The NAACP organized the rally in hopes of better understanding national and state laws and to question laws perceived as unfair.
In an interview before the rally, Dwight Newbould, former president of the Liberty County NAACP chapter, said the event’s objectives were healing, moving forward and educating.
“We came together tonight to go forward, heal and educate the citizens to make changes to the laws,” he said. “You have to start in your own local community first. Trayvon Martin happened in Sanford, Fla. We are the community of Liberty County, Ga. We want to ensure our community is knowledgeable and is on the right point.”
Newbould added he is hopeful that the organization of a grassroots movement in Liberty County will spread throughout the state and to the nation, addressing issues raised by Martin’s death.
Current Liberty County NAACP President Hannah Williams-Donegan also addressed the crowd.
“That child could have been anyone’s child. It could have been anyone of us. It didn’t have to be a child. He could have been any color. We’re not here because of the color. We’re here because of the way the situation was handled. What we want to do is move forward from this incident to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she said.
During his speech, Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, took a moment to remember the late Ernie Walthour, the Liberty County youth coach and community activist who was murdered earlier this month. No suspects have been arrested.
“My heart bleeds for Trayvon Martin, his family, the situation. Before I talk about Trayvon, my heart grieves for Ernie, who justice needs to serve,” Williams said.
Many in the crowd expressed their agreement by shouting, “Amen!”
Williams continued, “It grieves me to know any number of young African-American boys — and sometimes women — are dying by unusual numbers in the streets of America, and I want us to be just as mad about their deaths as we are about Trayvon Martin. We have an epidemic out there.”
The lawmaker told the crowd that more African-American men have died in the past week then had been killed by the Ku Klux Klan in the past 20 years.
“Something is wrong with that picture,” he said.
Annie Torres, a Hinesville resident, said she attended the vigil to show her support.
“I’m a mom, and what happened in Sanford, Fla., could have happened to any of our children. I attended not to show support to one nationality, but all nationalities,” she said. “We have to stick together as a community to have our voices heard.”
The hour-long rally ended as, one by one, members of the crowd lit candles and bowed their heads in prayer before capping off the evening by singing, “We Shall Overcome.”