At a Saturday morning rally outside Bethlehem City Hall, the Rev. Paul Watson summoned a handful of young men out of the crowd and had them raise the hoods of their sweatshirts.
In an instant, the Whitehall Township pastor had turned a slogan -- "We are all Trayvon Martin" -- into a reality. The teens in their hoodies looked, in broad outline at least, like 17-year-old Martin, who was shot dead in Florida during an encounter with a community watch member on Feb. 26.
The episode has torn holes in the notion that President Obama's election four years ago marked the beginning of post-racial America. Instead, African-Americans of a certain age have found themselves revisiting dark episodes from the nation's past, when the plain fact of race could mean death in certain circumstances.
Martin was returning to his father's girlfriend's house after a trip to a convenience store when he was confronted by George Zimmerman, whose suspicions had been aroused by the sight of a black teen in a hoodie walking through the gated community.
The particulars of the encounter remain unclear -- Zimmerman claims Martin attacked him -- but the outcome was Martin's death by gunshot and a national outcry for a fuller investigation.
The story has prompted more than one observer to invoke the memory of Emmett Till, a black teen from Chicago who was murdered on vacation in Mississippi in 1955 after speaking to a white woman at a store.
In that case as in this, protesters said, race was held to be grounds for suspicion.
"These things shouldn't happen anymore," said Melvin Thomas, a minister from Trexlertown. "These things are things of old."
The rally, which drew about 100 people despite the raw and rainy weather, was organized by the Bethlehem chapter of the NAACP. It coincided with an NAACP march attended by thousands Saturday in Sanford, Fla., where the shooting occurred.
In Bethlehem, people held signs calling for Zimmerman's arrest and condemning Florida's "stand-your-ground" law, which broadly allows the use of deadly force in self-defense. Zimmerman may escape prosecution because police have said there was no evidence to contradict his claim that he was protecting himself from Martin.
"I belong to a block watch," said NAACP vice president Cordelia Miller. "At no time in our indoctrination did they tell us we had the authority to stop someone. But Mr. Zimmerman took it upon himself to be judge, jury and executioner."
Miller and others talked about the conversation African-American families are forced to have with their children, explaining to them how they must behave if they are ever pulled over while driving.
"Put both hands on the wheel," Miller said. "Don't appear to be snippy or insolent. ...There's not one of us who hasn't had that conversation!"
Watson, of the New Christian Harvest AME Zion Church, told the crowd to look at the teens in their hoodies.
"Do they look like they want to hurt you?" he said. "Just because you're wearing a hood on your head does not mean you're a bad person. Don't let anybody tell you who you are. You're a child of God."
That was the very lesson Edwin Straker of Northampton wanted to impart to his 12-year-old son, Spencer.
"He's a young black man in a hoodie," Straker said. "He should be able to walk where he wants without being accosted."
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