Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Former Natchez Mayor Phillip West addresses the crowd of hundreds gathered during a Justice for Trayvon Martin rally in front of the United States District Courthouse on Pearl Street in Natchez on Saturday afternoon.
Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Former Natchez Mayor Phillip West addresses the crowd of hundreds gathered during a Justice for Trayvon Martin rally in front of the United States District Courthouse on Pearl Street in Natchez on Saturday afternoon.

Hundreds gather for Martin rally

Published 12:10am Sunday, July 21, 2013

NATCHEZ — More than 200 people gathered Saturday in front of the U.S. District Courthouse on Pearl Street to voice their opinion on the Florida court case that made national headlines.

George Zimmerman allegedly shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla.

A week ago, a Florida jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter under Florida’s stand-your-ground law.

The rally was one of dozens across the country.

Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Hundreds of supporters stand close together while saying a prayer during a Justice for Trayvon Martin rally in front of the United States District Courthouse on Pearl Street in Natchez on Saturday afternoon.
Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Hundreds of supporters stand close together while saying a prayer during a Justice for Trayvon Martin rally in front of the United States District Courthouse on Pearl Street in Natchez on Saturday afternoon.

Miss-Lou residents began assembling at the courthouse shortly before noon, carrying signs and wearing hoodies, with hoods up, to symbolize what Martin was wearing on Feb. 26.

A bag of skittles and carton of Arizona Iced Tea — the objects Martin was carrying when killed — sat on a table in front of the crowd, with a banner that read, “Justice for Trayvon Martin.”

With the crowd gathered on Pearl Street, civil rights activist and former Natchez Mayor Phillip West clarified the purpose of the rally.

“We are here to lend our voice to the justice department,” West said. “For more than 200 years there have been double standards in the justice system. We have been to the courthouse looking for justice, but all we found was just us.”

He clarified that the justice system’s double standard disproportionately affects African Americans.

“A black person’s life is not equal to other people’s life,” he said.

West continued, saying that Zimmerman’s acquittal was wrong. He specifically blamed juror B37 for discrediting witness Rachel Jeantel. Jeantel was on the phone with Martin on Feb. 26.

“It’s not your job to decide whether the witness can speak or not,” West said. “The juror ignored Rachel Jeantel and ignored the truth because of a Jim Crow mindset.”

The rally included speeches by several public officials and Natchez residents. Speeches varied in topic, but focused on social issues stemming from racism and reforming the justice system.

Natchez resident Jammal McCullough spoke about personal experiences with racial profiling in Natchez.

“In 1983, I was walking home from basketball practice and a truck full of white men pulled up next to me,” McCullough said. “They started pelting me with bottles. The point of my story is that some people feel they have a right to tell people where they belong.”

Former Adams County Justice Court Judge Mary Toles told attendees that they could have an impact on changing the judicial branch.

“We have miles to go before the justice system is perfect,” Toles said. “We can all do something to make change. This is a start.”

Natchez Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis questioned the jury using Martin’s past as an indicator.

“A child has the right to grow up and mature,” Arceneaux-Mathis said. “So what if he was suspended from school.”

After a series of speeches, the group gathered in the middle of Pearl Street, joined hands, prayed and sang, “We Shall Overcome.”