SAN JOSE -- Emir Jacobs went to his first protest rally Sunday night, not that it was his idea to join a hundred or so boisterous people at San Jose City Hall.
"It's a little weird," the soft-spoken, 14-year-old said. "Most young people my age are under a lot of pressure to get good grades and do well at school. I'm not saying this is a distraction, but for the most part, we're just trying to get through life."
He was talking about the second Sunday protest in a row in the city's downtown since a Florida jury acquitted a neighborhood watchman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, 17. The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the racially charged case continues to spark protests from coast to coast. Like Trayvon, Emir is fond of hooded sweatshirts, choosing a black one festooned with a goofy cartoon character for the rally.
"He wears them all the time," said one of his aunts, Desiree Smith, 27, of San Jose.
She and her sister, Kyreesha Smith, 26, persuaded Emir to attend the rally. The boy may not have seen himself in Trayvon, but his aunts clearly did and thought it was time for his political awakening.
"I have a brother, and there's my nephew here, said, Desiree Smith. "It could have been them. You can't see something like that happen and stand by."
Feeling a little less uneasy as the crowd grew, Emir said he heard about the shooting the night it happened and had quietly listened to adults around him argue the case.
"Now we have to rally around him and make sure there is justice," he said.
His aunts gave him an approving nod. The turnout was twice as large as the first, post-verdict rally last week, and there appeared to be more youngsters this time, adding a youthful voice to the lineup of old civil rights activists from the 1950s and '60s.
"That's my people dying, my people getting killed," said Angel Conforti, 21, a recent graduate of San Jose City College. "We have a black president, but I have to explain to my future children, no matter how beautiful their skin, that they can be killed because their skin is black."
She attended with a former classmate, Melissa Mendez, who described how difficult it has been to persuade teenagers and young adults of color to participate in the rallies. One hope of protest leaders is to encourage federal prosecutors to pursue a civil rights case against Zimmerman.
"There are more young people this time but not a lot of them," said Mendez, 18, who is black and Latino and a recent graduate of Lincoln High School. "When I ask them to join us, I don't know, they just stand there. Maybe they're too cool."
However cool or uncool, she and her young friends participated in the rally and short march to the federal building a few blocks away.
Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767. Follow him at Twitter.com/JoeRodMercury.