By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Rallies are being held in cities across the country this weekend to protest the failure of police to arrest a Florida neighborhood watch volunteer for shooting to death an unarmed black teenager.
Protesters, some dressed in "hoodie" hooded sweatshirts like the kind 17-year-old Trayvon Martin wore at the time of his death, gathered for events in Columbia, South Carolina, Washington, D.C. and Chicago Saturday.
Rallies are being planned for other cities Sunday, and a protest is planned Monday in Sanford, Florida, the Orlando suburb where the shooting took place.
Martin was shot dead on February 26 after George Zimmerman, 28, a white Hispanic neighborhood watch captain, believed the young man walking through the gated community in a hoodie looked suspicious. Zimmerman followed him and an altercation ensued.
Zimmerman has said he was acting in self-defense. He has not been arrested, though state and federal authorities are investigating.
About 300 people, of various races and ages, gathered in Daley Plaza in Chicago on a cool, wet Saturday afternoon. Protesters held signs with slogans like, "It's not a crime to be black" and "Wearing a hoodie is not a crime."
Martin reportedly had been returning from a convenience store carrying Skittles candy and a can of iced tea when he encountered Zimmerman. One protester, Tracie Roberson, 31, of Chicago, made a sign that said "BEWARE, I'm packin Skittles," with a box of Skittles taped beneath the words.
"I think it's a big injustice to our people," said Roberson, who is black. She thinks Martin was targeted because of his race.
Craig Sonner, Zimmerman's lawyer, said his client was acting out of self-defense, not racial bigotry.
Roberson said she usually did not get involved in politics, but the Martin case "really touched my spirit. I felt I had to do something."
Takisha Walters, 34, of Chicago said she also usually didn't go to rallies but "this tugged at my heartstrings." Both she and her daughter, Ana, age 7, wore hoodies.
Andre Robinson, 51, of Chicago, said Florida's gun laws were too lax. "That could have been easily been my son," said Robinson, who is black. He wore a hoodie which featured the images of President Barack Obama and civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.
Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law allows people to use deadly force in self-defense. Similar laws are in effect in at least 23 states, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
At city hall in Washington D.C., which stands a few blocks from the White House, about 500 people gathered to protest Martin's killing. Many were in hooded sweatshirts, and most were black.
One of the D.C. organizers compared the case to that of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago who was murdered by white men in Mississippi in 1955 after reportedly flirting with a white woman.
Jonathan Hutto of the Prince George's People's Coalition for Police Accountability told the crowd that the Martin case "is not only civil rights, but human rights, denied."
"We appeal for redress for Trayvon Martin and the Trayvon Martins of society," said Hutto.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski, Ian Simpson and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Tim Gaynor)