By noon today, Police Plaza behind the Manhattan Municipal Building was packed with demonstrators awaiting the arrival of Al Sharpton along with Trayvon Martin’s mother and brother, Sybrina and Jahvaris Fulton, to formally kick off today’s “Justice for Trayvon” rally.
When Sharpton and the Fultons arrived shortly after noon, they were accompanied by Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera in the raised area behind the dais. (He had no cameraman and seemed to be observing the proceedings as a guest.) When a handful of protesters directly behind me spotted Rivera, they began to complain loudly, repeatedly shouting, “Get Fox out!” and “What are you doing here?” and describing the network as “disgusting” (and another, less decorous term). The anti-Fox crowd was sufficiently vocal to compel Sharpton’s attention from the podium; he quieted them down by saying, “Don’t get distracted, let’s focus on what we’re doing now.”
That focus was on Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law, and similar laws around the country which have been targeted for criticism after Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin, although Zimmerman’s attorneys did not invoke the Florida statute in his defense. Sharpton declared, “That law hurts blacks, whites, and Asians . . . this is a human thing!” He told the crowd that stand-your-ground invites racial profiling, and he compared its impact on black Americans today to the past effect of slavery and segregation:
Saying it’s better doesn’t mean it’s equal. Profiling may not be as bad as the back of the bus, but you don’t know the humiliation of walking into a department store and being followed . . . of being judged guilty until proven innocent!
Dapper as usual in a pink tie and gray double-breasted suit, and flanked by Trayvon’s relatives, Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump, Representative Charlie Rangel (D., N.Y.), and several other notables of the black left, Sharpton warned, “You have woke us up, and we are never going to sleep!” Yet he seemed to be taking pains to avoid violence (or at least associations therewith), repeatedly declaring that the protests ought to remain peaceful. In addition to quieting the shouts against Fox, at one point he told the crowd:
We’re having a fight, not a fit. We’re having a movement, not a moment. So if you can’t control yourself, you’ve come to the wrong rally.