Hundreds of protesters marched through downtown Baltimore on Monday evening to express outrage over the Trayvon Martin case but also to use the teen as a symbol of systemic issues facing the black community in the city and around the country.
Several hundred protesters gathered in McKeldin Square next to the Inner Harbor before marching seven blocks to City Hall, shutting down streets during rush-hour traffic. It was the second day of protests in Baltimore after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in Martin's death after a trial that captured national attention.
Tensions have run high, and Baltimore police said Monday they are investigating an alleged beating of a Hispanic man that, according to a witness, came at the hands of a group of black youths who were saying "This is for Trayvon" while they attacked him. Police, who have urged residents to respond peacefully, reported no incidents at the protests.
Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Peruvian, was accused of racially profiling Martin before the two became locked in a fatal confrontation last year in Florida. He was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter.
The Baltimore protests came two weeks after hundreds marched 10 miles along North Avenue to speak out against city violence, leaving some residents to wonder if Baltimore was shaking off a reputation for indifference.
Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, head of the Baltimore Southern Christian Leadership Conference chapter and one of the organizers of the Trayvon Martin protests, said community leaders are using the rallies as a jumping off point to brainstorm solutions to violence as well as poverty, lack of economic opportunities and other problems in Baltimore. He said he hoped the recent protests would "spark" a broader community reaction.
"The police are only necessary when there's issues in the community that are not tended to," Witherspoon said. "We believe the community can handle those."
Another rally is planned for Wednesday, against a proposal to use taxpayer money to help fund infrastructure improvements at the planned Harbor Point development.
Ira McCray, 33, was getting off work Monday when he saw the crowd downtown and joined in. He said he believed a litany of issues facing city residents — closed recreation centers, lack of jobs, recent increased violence — had pushed many to their breaking point.
"It's like an addict — can't no one force you to treatment," he said as he marched. "You have to be fed up with it yourself."
Passing motorists honked, and one man yelled, "I love it," as the marchers passed him on Calvert Street chanting, "Hands off our children." The marchers filled nearly an entire city block.
LaKeysha Hart brought her two young sons to both the Sunday and Monday evening rallies. One of them, Rayquan Patterson, 9, led chants for justice through a bullhorn in the center of the crowd. Hart said another of her sons, age 15, survived being shot in the head last year in Baltimore.
"To me, it's not just about Trayvon Martin, it's about justice," said Hart, 34. "Our youth are dying, and we're not getting any justice."
Jerry Williams, 27, said Martin was a "martyr" and "a symbol of injustice" facing the black community as he watched the crowd converge on War Memorial Plaza.
"Black people feel as if they're becoming the minority of the minority," he said, citing issues ranging from the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act — which some critics say reopens the door for states to enact discriminatory voting laws — to poverty and violence.
"It's cumulative, and it's reaching the point where if we don't do something, it's going to grow beyond our control," Williams said.
In a Facebook post that drew nearly 50 comments, real estate agent Christina Dudley said she was walking to her car just before 9 p.m. Sunday when she saw several young black males and two black females chasing a 37-year-old Hispanic man west on North Linwood Avenue past East Fairmont Avenue.
"One of the boys had a handgun out, and it was pointed at the back of him," Dudley said in an interview.
They caught up to the man at the corner of Fairmount and North Streeper Street, and the male with the gun appeared to beat the victim with it while others kicked and stomped him, Dudley said. Police confirmed they are looking into whether the perpetrators' reaction to the verdict in the Zimmerman trial played a role in the incident. A police report on the beating does not mention the alleged comments.
"They were just yelling and calling him names as they ran after him, but once they were hitting him and after that, they started yelling, "This is for Trayvon," said Dudley, who said she heard the chant repeated multiple times.
Dudley and a woman walking her dog across the street told the group to stop and warned that they were calling 911. The group scattered before police arrived. Police have no arrests or named suspects. The victim suffered abrasions to his elbows and forearms but refused medical attention, according to the police report.
Dudley, who lives in the neighborhood, said she worries about her Hispanic neighbors and said she and other residents were looking for ways beyond Facebook to warn them of the incident. Patterson Park has one of the city's highest concentrations of Latinos and is home to the annual Latino Fest.