More than 100 people gathered in Chapin Park Monday night for a candlelight vigil in memory of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old boy who was fatally shot in Sanford, Fla. by neighborhood watch leader George Zimmerman last year.
The vigil follows Saturday’s verdict where a jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the teen’s death. Demonstrations have been held in several communities around the nation in response to the verdict.
Monday’s vigil here focused on raising community awareness about gun violence and urging people to be proactive in finding solutions, said Jonathan Blye of DJ ROC Entertainment, who organized the event with Kaneeka Johnson, his fiance.
“We’re not trying to retry Zimmerman,” Blye said. “I have a family member who was killed from gun violence, and this is to bring notice to that and to violence as a whole. It’s to bring awareness that we have our own tragedies, and what are we going to do about it?”
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The two organized the event after hearing the Zimmerman verdict, but they had no idea what the response to the local event would be, Johnson said. They asked participants to bring a candle and wear hooded sweatshirts, which could be seen among the crowd, despite the humid weather.
The event began with a prayer before a number of people took turns to tell their stories and urging people to come together. Many of them emphasized the issue is not about white or black, but it is about reaching out to young people and making a difference in their lives.
Darryl Pyatt’s 21-year-old son, Joshua, was shot and killed in a carjacking three weeks ago. He urged people to speak up when they see a young person doing something wrong, and urged parents to not get mad, but to thank the person for the chance to stop an unfortunate event.
“It shouldn’t take this to bring people together,” Pyatt said. “We need to go back to the old days when the community raised the child.”
Elizabeth Bowens, founder of S.C. Mothers Against Violence, lost her son, Tony Hemingway, to violence in 2005.
She attended the vigil with others from the group who also lost children and said events like the Martin case always reopens their wounds.
“We had to come to this because we are against violence,” Bowens said. “Any time violence occurs, we have to speak out, and this vigil brings the word out. Everybody can come to the table and talk their differences out.”
While many who attended the vigil said they have felt the direct affects of violence in their lives, others were there to follow their conscience and show support.
“I think I’m one of the silent majority who needs to take a stand and make a presence,” said Suzanne Werner of Myrtle Beach.