WASHINGTON (USA Today) -- The searing heat of July was not enough to deter 60-year-old Terri White from joining Saturday's "Justice for Trayvon" rally at high noon outside the federal courthouse here.
White, a Baltimore psychotherapist, said she had to attend because she "felt disbelief and disgust" after a Florida jury acquitted former neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman of all charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman claimed self-defense. White wasn't buying it.
"I have two African-American sons and grandsons and I want to see things change for them," White said as protesters chanted "No justice, no peace."
Thousands gathered Saturday at rallies in more than 100 cities nationwide to remember Trayvon, to press for federal civil rights charges against the man who shot him, and to attack stand-your-ground self-defense laws. The Justice Department is investigating whether Zimmerman, 29, violated Martin's civil rights when he shot the 17-year-old during a February 2012 confrontation in Sanford, Fla.
Although Zimmerman ultimately did not use a "stand your ground" defense, the case brought stand-your-ground laws into the spotlight. At a rally in New York City, civil rights activist Al Sharpton took aim at those laws, which in more than a dozen states generally give people wide latitude to use deadly force if they fear serious bodily harm. "We are trying to change laws so that this never, ever happens again," Sharpton, who organized the nationwide rallies through his National Action Network, told the crowd.
Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon's mother, spoke at the New York rally. "Today it was my son. Tomorrow it might be yours," she warned the crowd. Trayvon's father, Tracy Martin, echoed those sentiments at a rally in Miami. "This could be any one of our children," he said. "Our mission now is to make sure that this doesn't happen to your child."
In Indianapolis, where a rally at the Birch Bayh Federal Building was cut short by a downpour, Pastor Michael K.Jones said the Zimmerman verdict "should be a wake up call to us just like 9/11 was for all us in America."
"Do you know what America did after 9/11? We made some changes," Jones said. "I came by today to tell someone 7/13 will never happen again."
The rallies drew the rich and famous, including Beyoncé and Jay Z in New York, but mostly the crowds consisted of regular folks who felt justice was not served at Zimmerman's trial.
In Washington, D.C., protester Hellen Smith, 45, who brought her 14-year-old daughter, said she had mixed emotions about the verdict. She said jurors may not have had enough evidence to convict, but added that "we have to stand up for any person of any race who has been unjustly murdered."
Washington resident Ralph Reynaud, 69, said the verdict shows that many people connect more easily with Zimmerman than with a black teen. "There was no justice," Reynaud said. "The letter of the law was executed, but the spirit of it was invalidated."
In Nashville, a rally-turned-prayer-service drew about 500 people. Brandi Walker of Goodlettsville and her three children were among them, carrying signs that read "I am Travyon Martin" and decorated with Skittles candy wrappers. Martin was returning home from a convenience store with some of those candies the night he died.
Walker said the verdict in the Zimmerman trial made her afraid for her sons, who are 11 and 13. "They are not expendable," she said.
Similar sentiments were expressed at rallies across the nation:
• In Detroit, Onikha Lemurian said she joined thousands of others who gathered for outside the federal courthouse because she wanted to help guarantee a safer future for her grandsons. "In this case, I don't think justice was served," said Lemurian, 70, of Detroit. "I did not want to think that this would recur here or anywhere else."
• In Wilmington, Del., about 100 people - almost all of them African-American - gathered outside the J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building as passersby honked their horns in support. Local resident Mary Gilbert was upbeat, saying the verdict in the case will eventually have a positive effect on society. "God is never wrong, so the verdict isn't wrong," Gilbert said. "It's making people of all races realize that something is wrong."
• In Asheville, N.C., where about 50 people gathered at the Vance Monument to tolerance, 16-year-old Liana Murray collected signatures on a petition urging the federal Justice Department to file charges against Zimmerman. "He racially profiled and stalked a child and shot him because he was wearing a hoodie," Murray said. "Wearing a hoodie and being a black young man in the U.S. is something seen as suspicious."
Most of the rallies and vigils were taking place outside federal court buildings. Sharpton said the vigils will be followed by a conference next week in Miami to develop a plan to address Florida's stand-your-ground law.
The rallies came a day after President Obama, speaking to reporters at an impromptu gathering in the White House briefing room, said that all Americans should respect the jury's acquittal of Zimmerman, but that white Americans should also understand that African Americans are pained by Trayvon's death and continue to face racial discrimination.
Obama told reporters that, like other African Americans, he has been followed by security guards while shopping, and has seen motorists lock their doors or women hold tighter to their purses as he walked near them. "Those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida."
"I think it's important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away," Obama said, and "it's going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching."
The president also questioned the wisdom of Florida's stand-your-ground law and suggested people consider whether Trayvon also had the right to stand his ground, adding: "Do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?"
Contributing: David Jackson, USA TODAY; Eric Weddle, The Indianapolis Star; Clarke Morrison, Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times; Mike Chalmers, The (Delaware) News Journal; Bob Smietana, The (Nashville) Tennessean; Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press; the Associated Press