A handful of rallies are slated throughout Southern California this weekend, calling for federal prosecution of George Zimmerman in the wake of his acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. But unlike earlier protests in the wake of the July 13 verdict that ended in violence and arrests, these events are expected to be largely peaceful and structured.
Backed by local chapters of well-formed national groups, the rallies are put on by people who know how to best get their message across through respectful civil disobedience. And that, say some, makes a difference between a peaceful event and one that spins out of control.
"In our marches, we're a very experienced militant -- but disciplined -- organization," said Mike Prysner, a member of the Los Angeles chapter of Washington, D.C.-based activist group Answer (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition. "The demonstrations that have escalated -- and we're not judging anyone with how they protest -- have been grass-roots efforts by people who have never protested before."
Answer Coalition readied one of the calmer protests this week, a rally and march on July 16 that started at Los Angeles City Hall, wound through downtown streets for more than an hour and ended on the steps of police headquarters. No one was arrested, and after just a few hours, organizers vocally brought the event to an end.
"We didn't let it degenerate into something else after the protest was over," Prysner said.
The group has planned another rally for Sunday at Anaheim City Hall that is expected to draw upward of 1,000 people, with buses bringing in protesters from Northern California.
Most of the half-dozen gatherings planned for Saturday are backed by Al Sharpton's National Action Network, which was predicated on the motto "No justice, no peace." Sharpton on Monday called for a "Day of Unity" and encouraged chapters to stage rallies and prayer vigils at federal court buildings demanding that the Department of Justice indict Zimmerman on civil-rights violations. More than 100 are planned nationally for this morning.
An LAPD spokesman said these types of events are different than the spontaneous protests that have sprung up in the week since the verdict in the Zimmerman case. The department is planning for what is expected to be a large rally at the federal courthouse on Spring Street starting at 9 a.m.
"We have been in constant communication with the organizers of the event and we have an understanding of their want and need to have this rally," said LAPD's Sgt. Albert Gonzalez. "We have been working with them to facilitate a peaceful rally. We're not anticipating any violence."
Gonzalez added that while it doesn't change the department's plans, when events are scheduled often plays a key role. "Obviously, under the cover of darkness, people with ulterior motives can hide," he said. "But since [this is] an early-morning, early-afternoon event, there's less of that likely to happen." He declined to give details on the number of officers the department is assigning to the area.
Similar rallies and vigils are planned for Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville and Palmdale on Saturday.
Rocky Ford, organizer of the Palmdale vigil, said he expects it to be calm and doesn't have an estimate on the number of people expected.
"It'll be interesting to see if a lot of people show up, because Palmdale is such a small community," he said. "But people have called to check in about it, so we'll see."