More than 600 people donned hoodie sweatshirts and marched in Englewood Sunday to with the family of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager who was shot dead by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida.
The marchers traveled from Mount Calvary Baptist Church to MacKay Park in near silence to protest the killing. George Zimmerman, 28, told police he acted in self-defense when he gunned down the unarmed 17-year-old on Feb. 26.
Zimmerman had called police to report Martin as looking suspicious. The killing and the fact that Zimmerman has not been charged sparked a national outcry, led the Sanford police chief to temporarily step down and prompted federal authorities to launch an investigation.
Florida police have cited the state's “stand your ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force if they feel threatened, as the reason why he was not immediately charged.
"I don't care if he was a wearing a do-rag and a prison uniform, you don't get to run after someone and call it self-defense," Fort Lee resident Marcy Levy said.
Mount Calvary Baptist Church Senior Pastor Rev. Vernon C. Walton said he organized Sunday's event because a similar incident could happen anywhere, including New Jersey.
"As we've come along, we've made tremendous strides with race relations, but I don't want us to become complacent," Walton said.
Walton and others said they believe prejudice played a role in Martin's death and the reaction from police, who have been accused of mishandling the case.
"I think there's still a lot of hatred and prejudice," Hackensack resident Michele Henry said. "We all have to coexist in a civilized society."
Parishioners from several area churches and members of various organizations came to the march to lend support. Elected officials, including Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, Teaneck Councilwoman Barbara Toffler and Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., also turned out.
"This is an opportunity for us to band together," Hameeduddin said. "Whether there is a shooting of an unarmed African-American child, or whether it's a Latino in Arizona being picked up for being Latino, or whether it's the NYPD spying on Muslims just for being Muslim, we must all stand together. This is when the establishment will take us seriously."
Elle Kelly, a veteran and member of the American Legion in Englewood, said he believed Zimmerman should be charged for killing Martin.
"It's not about race. It's about justice," Kelly said.
Rep. Steve Rothman spoke at the church's service before the march.
"I grieve that, still in America, our young people have to live in fear of this kind of conduct," Rothman said. "This cannot happen again in the United States of America, and if it does, there will be swift and certain justice."
Bergen County NAACP President Anthony Cureton said he hopes people will take Martin's death as inspiration to become more proactive in their lives by voting and participating in government and community events.
Walton agreed with Cureton.
"If you're not registered to vote, you're sleeping," Walton said.
Walton also said he hoped people would learn from the incident not to judge others by their appearance, including both race and clothing. In rallies across the country, supporters have worn hoodie sweatshirts to show support for Martin.
Parents should also take a greater role in their children's lives, he said.
"We cannot allow Trayvon's blood to be shed and his dying to be in vain," Walton said. "It won't be if some people wake up."