The heat made faces shiny with sweat, and the thousands of protesters seemed to have no particular direction as they set off from Union Square through Manhattan just before 7 p.m. Sunday.
“Whose streets? Our streets!” they chanted, too many of them offspring of the middle class who could only rightly claim suburban lanes.
Then, as the protest turned east off Broadway, a big voice rose from a tiny figure to give the march uncommon power and incontestable legitimacy.
“Skittles, I eat them! Iced tea, I drink that! Trayvon Martin, I am that!”
The words came from 10-year-old Halie Perez, who had walked over the Brooklyn Bridge in shorts and flip-flops with her two sisters and their mother. She is from a Brooklyn never seen in Girls, and she had followed the entire George Zimmerman trial on television with the intensity of someone who sees issues of race and gun violence play out all around her every day.
She had imagined Zimmerman would be convicted. Her cry carried a child’s outrage at fundamental unfairness of him being acquitted after shooting an unarmed teen who had been out buying candy and a drink.
“Don’t shoot me, don’t hurt me! Just Skittles and iced tea!” Halie now chanted.
She was a reminder that Martin had himself been not much more just a kid and that the same fate could befall other kids if his death is not taken as a mandate for change.
“I am …” Halie now shouted.
The reply was joined by her mother and sisters and everyone around them.
“You are …” Halie continued.
'“We are …”
Her 15-year-old sister, Alexus Martínez, had learned too much about gun violence a decade earlier. Alexus had been just 5 when when her father, Siddell Martínez, was shot to death. Alexus had also watched the entire Zimmerman trial
“From day one,” she said. She had seen enough of the world not to have expected a guilty verdict, now reporting, “I was sad more than surprised.” She added that she had a 6-year-old brother at home and felt an urgency to change things.
“Before he’s old enough for it to happen to him,” she said.
Alexus carried a sign reading “Justice for Trayvon” as she marched just behind Halie and their 9-year-old sister, Trinity, who had a purse in the shape of a panda bear that contained a box of chalk in case they needed to write sidewalk messages of protest.
“Whose streets?” somebody shouted, as before.
“Our streets!” Halie and her sister and her mother joined in replying, a response that from their mouths sounded completely true and not at all presumptuous.
Halie removed her flip-flops and continued barefoot up the middle of what really did seem to be her streets. The American flags flying from the front of a Home Depot store looked suddenly more vivid and as much hers as anyone else’s.
“Murder is murder, no matter what your color,” they all chanted as they headed uptown.
Halie was still bouncy with energy, but faltered as she passed East 27th Street on Sixth Avenue. “I can’t find Mommy!” she exclaimed.
Her mother, Dalia Perez, had paused for a moment to help stop cars from cutting crosstown through the march but now rejoined her girls. The march turned down East 33rd Street into the setting sun and the reward of a cooling breeze. Workers in a Kmart stood at the window, flashing peace signs and raisings fists in solidarity.
Upon reaching Eighth Avenue, the marchers again turned uptown into the gathering night. The police were showing great restraint, as if they recognized this was a protest that went deeper than politics, as deep as what any child could recognize as a question of the most fundamental fairness.
“To your right, two lanes please,” an officer said.
Halie’s mother was still sure the police would stop them before they reached 42nd Street. But the marchers were allowed to continue, and they made a mass right turn down the famous Deuce, passing under a huge video screen that was showing an ad for the movie Two Guns. None of the porno theaters that once infected this block ever showed anything more obscene than Mark Wahlberg waving an automatic pistol above this heartfelt march.
“Don’t shoot me, don’t hurt me!” Halie chanted again.
They passed a sightseeing bus from which tourists were taking photos of an unexpected sight.
“But, this is happening everywhere,” Dalia noted.
The marchers reached the crossroads of the world and paused in front of the big electric American flag on the side of the armed forces recruiting station. They then continued up into the heart of Times Square. The billboards flashing famous brand names were joined by placards fitted with LED lights that spelled out a name made famous in tragedy because he could have been any young man of color.
Alexus had the honor of holding the second N. Her family had been accompanied by Channel Curtis and her two daughters, 6-year-old Brianna Jackson and 9-year-old Tiana Hosty, who had a Hello Kitty bag. The time now came for Curtis to leave, as she had to work a midnight to 9 a.m. shift in the stock department at a discount department store.
“Be safe,” Curtis said as she departed.
Halie and her family remained, but were reaching a limit.
“My feet hurt,” Halie announced.
“Your feet hurt because you stopped moving,” the mother said.
Other marchers announced that they were going to continue uptown, but the mother decided they had said what they had to say.
“We’re going home,” she said.
They headed for the subway past one of the latest Times Square attractions on nights when there are not thousands of marchers.
“There was the naked cowboy and now there’s the naked woman,” the mother said.
Alexus still had her “Justice for Trayvon” sign when they went down into the Times Square station.
“That’s nice,” a cop remarked with no sarcasm.
A small number of the marchers who headed uptown and were apparently determined to be arrested would manage to succeed. Dalia Perez and her most genuine of Brooklyn girls rode a downtown express back to where the biggest issues are played out in everyday life.
“Today was supposed to be laundry day,” the mother said.