It was a night full of hooded sweatshirts. And not because of the chill in the air.
More than 500 people, white and black, young and old, gathered together Monday night in the pedestrian mall to protest the lack of an arrest in the Trayvon Martin shooting incident and to urge racial equality in this nation, this state, and this town.
In the crowd, which spanned from the playground next to the library to the bars on the opposite side, the signs read:
AM I NEXT?
STAND UP FOR JUSTICE
END RACIAL PROFILING
GONE BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN
IOWA MOMS DEMAND JUSTICE FOR TRAYVON
"We are here out of love, even though this tragedy happened," the emcee, Chad Simmons, told the crowd, after repeating 'we are here out of love' in refrain. "We're all Trayvon Martin today."
Martin, a 17-year-old African American boy, was shot to death on Feb. 26 by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida, who suspected him of being a criminal. Martin, however, had been carrying tea and a bag of Skittles, and was walking through the neighborhood while wearing a hooded sweatshirt and talking to his girlfriend.
The shooter, George Zimmerman, 28, was not charged after claiming self defense under Florida's Stand Your Ground law. Zimmerman reportedly told police that Martin had attacked him first.
Iowa City's protest was one of several happening all over the country that denounced the shooting as being racially motivated. The crowd members, clad in hooded sweatshirts to decry the racial profiling associated with the garment and holding Skittles in honor of Martin, watched several speakers during the more than hour long event and cheered themes of racial and social equality.
In addition to seeking a trial in Martin's death, the event also focused on the persistant existence of racism in this country, and particularly in Iowa City.
Frederick Newell, the community liaison for , spoke about his struggles to succeed as a black man in a city he was surprised to find judged him by the color of his skin. Newell became emotional as he talked about his practice of wearing a dress shirt and tie instead of the clothing favored by urban youths, for fear of being judged as unworthy due to his race.
As he donned a hooded sweatshirt in honor of Martin, he said he would no longer hide behind his shirt and tie.
"We have to come together and stop the killing, stop the racial profiling, stop judging people by their race or their economic status," Newell said, the crowd roaring in support.
Another woman, Asabi Dean, who is attending the to get a degree in counselling, also told the crowd of a painful incident with a hooded sweatshirt.
Dean said that two years ago, not long after to coming to Iowa City from Chicago, she had sent her son to a in search of batteries. When her son came back frightened, she learned that the clerk, a middle-aged white man, had scolded and frisked her 13-year-old son, accusing him of stealing batteries. She said after she confronted the clerk he told her he suspected her son due to his wearing a hooded sweatshirt -- the school sweatshirt of Northwest Junior High -- and because other kids had stolen from the store before.
"I had no idea of this perception of hoodies," Dean said. "This sort of thing still happens, even here in this town."
Dean said she made phone call after phone call to get a video of the incident and an apology from the clerk, both which never came. She said the man making her son assume the position had deeply hurt her. She said that it had robbed him of his innocence, and ruined his perception of the white people in "this beautiful town," white men who she said are mostly good and honorable.
"To me, he just violated him," Dean said.
Although the pain from racial divisions were apparent, the overarching theme was of togetherness. Many speakers reacted with joy at seeing such a diverse group gathered together in solidarity, and expressed hope for improvements in race relations.
That hope was also expressed by Megan Schwalm, the white Iowa City mother who arranged the event on Tuesday and said she first expected to see 50 people. Schwalm said the she had already been preparing herself to help son Maddox, a 19-month-old African American who rested in a carrier on her back during the event, deal with the racism he would face in his life. However, the idea that he could be killed one day due to the color of her skin shook her, and forced her into action.
Schwalm told the crowd that she wasn't going to let the goal of racial equality stop at Monday night's event.
"I'm a mom on a mission, and I'm going to work to make things better for my son, and for all these other kids out here," Schwalm said.
As the crowd cheered in approval at Schwalm's speech, Maddox joined them with a cry of his own.