Protesters thronged the plaza of the Hennepin County Government Center Monday in downtown Minneapolis, chanting the name of slain teenager, Trayvon Martin, and carrying signs with slogans such as "Black Lives Matter" and "End Racism Now."
George Zimmerman's exoneration in the shooting death of Martin, an unarmed teenager, is stirring protests around the country, including the Twin Cities. A Florida jury on Saturday declared Zimmerman not guilty.
A large crowd -- police estimated up to 1,500 people and organizers said they registered 2,374 people -- rallied in Minneapolis to decry the verdict. Many different races were represented in the crowd. It appeared an even mix of women and men.
For many of those who attended, the racial issues at stake in the case struck a personal chord.
"I'm an African American male, I've been profiled before, so I know how it is, so I just wanted to come show support," said Nick Anderson, 30, of New Brighton, Minn. He believes Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, viewed Trayvon Martin as a threat because the teen was black.
Anderson said he has been followed by workers in stores or by the police. He recalls one occasion when an officer acted aggressively with him for no apparent reason. Anderson said his girlfriend, who is also black, had not understood how often this kind of thing happened to him until she witnessed the incident.
"Once it happened and she saw it, it gave awareness to her that it's just not a story people are making up," Anderson said. "This is really happening."
Anderson's girlfriend, Shameka Myers, 29, of New Brighton, was indeed taken aback, saying it "was surprising because I would think that people would be better than that in 2012-2013."
Anderson and Myers say they feel that racial profiling incidents are on the rise -- maybe because of the timing in proximity to another event that was in the recently news. Their acquaintance, Terrance Franklin, a young African American, was fatally shot in an apparent struggle with police in a Minneapolis basement in May. Critics charge that race played a role. The Hennepin County Attorney's office is still reviewing the case and will send it to a grand jury.
Ashley Martin, the mother of Franklin's 5-year-old son, was one of the speakers addressing the throng in Minneapolis last night.
“I just want to say I'm really thankful for everyone supporting Terrance and Trayvon, because they were both murdered unjustly.”Ashley Martin
"I just want to say I'm really thankful for everyone supporting Terrance and Trayvon, because they were both murdered unjustly," Martin said. "And we're not going to stop until we get justice."
Earlier Monday, Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau had publicly requested that the demonstration be peaceful. It was for the most part, except for one brief episode where two men counter-demonstrated from across the street. "The whole state of Minnesota is failing black children," they yelled through a megaphone, apparently upset over the achievement gap in schools.
It was momentarily tense as some of the rally organizers confronted the counter-demonstrators to ask why they were being disruptive. But the tension eventually subsided, and the otherwise peaceful crowd began its march down the block.
Their big hope now is that the U.S. Department of Justice will charge Zimmerman with a hate crime in the death of Martin. It is unclear if the government would have enough of a case to do so.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The original story has been changed to reflect updated information. After the event, Minneapolis police estimated the crowd at up to 1,500. Organizers of the event said they collected the names of 2,374 people on sign-in sheets at the rally.