Mass Florida rally after US black teen shot dead

Thousands of people outraged by the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white crime watch volunteer gathered to vent their anger and demand justice at a rally in a Florida town.

The vast crowd, which overwhelmed the town's Fort Mellon Park, clamored for justice in the death of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year-old who was shot dead by self-appointed watch captain George Zimmerman in a gated Florida community on February 26.

The mostly African-American crowd demanded the arrest of Zimmerman, who claims he acted in self-defense after a confrontation with the teenager. Zimmerman has been neither detained nor charged with any crime.

Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, who has been criticized for failing to arrest Zimmerman, announced just ahead of the rally that he was temporarily leaving his post because he had become a "distraction."

"I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to the city, which has been in turmoil for several weeks," Lee said at a press conference.

The victim's father, Tracy Martin, demanded more action.

"The temporary stepdown of Lee is nothing. We want an arrest. We want a conviction and we want an arrest of the murderer of our son," he told the crowd as it gathered in Sanford.

Officials at Sanford sheriff's office said between 15,000 and 20,000 people came to the peaceful rally, which featured Trayvon Martin's parents, African-American Civil Rights activist Al Sharpton, and several black religious figures.

Protesters drove from across Florida and even neighboring states to shake their fists in anger.

"The racial factor played a role in this case," said Karen Curry, 33, who came to the rally with her family.

"How could it be possible that the police officer didn't arrest the guy that shot a young guy and left him there as a piece of trash?" she asked AFP.

Jeffree Fauntleroy, a retired police officer in Florida who drove to Sanford from Tampa with his wife, was especially incensed.

"This is a poor example of police job," he said. "There are too many wrong things in this case, and something like that would never happen to a white boy, that is so sad."

Tracy Mean, 45, said she drove two and a half hours "to support this family and claim for an investigation. We have a beautiful and smart 18 year old boy, and we know that something like that could happen to him just because he is black."

Diane Culmin, 65, drove even further -- four and a half hours from Miami -- "with my two teenage grandsons to support this family and to show them how racism is still alive in some parts of our country."

The grandchildren "need to understand that the civil rights fight continue in 2012. The (suspension) of the police chief here is not enough -- we want Zimmerman arrested," she said. "We need an explanation as a community."

People at the rally handed out flyers with statements like "We Want Justice" and "Trayvon RIP, We'll finish your fight Baby."

Clergymen who spoke at the rally called for a protest march Monday outside the Sanford courthouse.

The US Justice Department, the FBI, the state attorney's office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are also investigating the case.

Local police say they believe Zimmerman cannot be prosecuted thanks to a Florida law that lets state residents use lethal force in self-defense.

The extent of anger in the explosive case and the degree to which it has dominated the national media is surprising even for the United States, where lingering racial wounds regularly become national talking points.

Those crying for Zimmerman's arrest have noted that he called the police several times while tracking the actions of the teenager, whom he said looked "real suspicious," according to transcripts released by police.

Although dispatchers told him not to pursue the youngster, Zimmerman apparently followed him anyway and shot him with his 9mm handgun. The exact circumstances of the shooting, however, remain unclear.

Many point to the incident as the latest example of the racial profiling and unjust treatment of blacks by the country's criminal justice system.

Sanford's city manager Norton Bonaparte called for an independent review of police action.

On Wednesday, "A Million Hoodies March" drew several hundred people in New York wearing the same sort of sweatshirt that Martin wore when he was shot.

  • Popular hot yoga myths debunked 5 hours ago
    Popular hot yoga myths debunked

    What’s the hottest new workout taking the world by storm? That would be hot yoga, also known as Bikram yoga. Conducted in a heated room with sweltering temperatures of about 40°C (or approximately 104° Fahrenheit) and 40 per cent humidity, … Continue reading →

  • Thursday #sgroundup: Body found of boy who made first call from Korea ferry: report 6 hours ago
    Thursday #sgroundup: Body found of boy who made first call from Korea ferry: report

    Here are today’s top trending stories in case you missed them.

  • Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day 17 hours ago
    Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day

    If there's one car that's particularly sought-after among today's well-heeled car collectors, a Ferrari 250 would be it. Usually it's the GTO variant, like the 1963 that sold for a record $52 million last year. A 250 of any sorts demands unfathomable cash, however, which is why we can but gawk at this 250 Testa Rossa. It's as close as any mere mortal will ever come to owning one.

  • Photo of a very thin Lee Kuan Yew sparks concern
    Photo of a very thin Lee Kuan Yew sparks concern

    A new picture of Singapore's first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who is now 90 years old, has drawn concern from people on Singapore's internet space.

  • Waste oil collector struggles after STOMP posts, receives help from kind souls
    Waste oil collector struggles after STOMP posts, receives help from kind souls

    After being photographed at work in Jurong pooling used oil near coffee shops, 50-year-old Valerie Sim has been struggling to keep her family afloat. Web portals STOMP and The Real Singapore published pictures of her in February, triggering a witch hunt for others like her and comments from readers like “Who knows if they’ll use it as cooking oil?” Some readers also said they filed police reports against her and other people they believed were doing the same thing she was.

  • Indonesian general says his flashy watch is a fake
    Indonesian general says his flashy watch is a fake

    JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia's military commander said critics who called him out for wearing an especially luxurious watch should be quiet because the timepiece is actually a cheap Chinese fake.