Supercouple Beyonce and Jay Z certainly haven't been silent about their feelings on the Trayvon Martin tragedy before now, as both have paid tribute to the slain teen in separate concerts this week. But on Saturday, "two of the baddest artists of all time" — as rally organizer Rev. Al Sharpton called them — let their mere presence do the talking, showing up at a demonstration against Stand Your Ground laws in downtown Manhattan and chatting with Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton.
"Jay Z and Beyonce said they didn't want to speak and they didn't come for a photo op," Sharpton told demonstrators. "Jay Z told me, 'I'm a father. Beyonce is a mother.' We all feel the pain and apprehension. The laws must protect everybody, or it doesn't protect anybody."
The pair joined the proceedings when demonstrators reached New York City police headquarters, in one of dozens of protests scheduled across the country to speak out against the Florida self-defense law that allowed George Zimmerman to go free. But prior to this quiet moment, the two stars haven't let just silence speak volumes.
The previous night, Jay Z used his moment as the king of New York — co-headlining with Justin Timberlake at Yankee Stadium, in the kickoff to their "Legends of the Summer" tour — to dedicate the closing number to Martin. "Get out your cell phone. Let's light the sky for Trayvon Martin tonight," exhorted Jay Z as Timberlake sang the opening refrains of "Forever Young." "One time for Trayvon," Timberlake added a few minutes into the iPhone-illuminated eulogy.
Beyonce's own in-concert tribute came a week ago at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, hours after the Florida jury's not guilty verdict was announced. “I’d like to have a moment of silence for Trayvon,” she said, then — after the pause — sang a seemingly impromptu, a cappella excerpt from "I Will Always Love You" that led into her hit, "Halo."
Beyonce has used her social media presence to bring awareness to the case, as well. She'd taken part in an Instagram "blackout" by posting a textless black square alongside a Trayvon Martin hashtag. On her website, she put it in historical context: "We must fight for Trayvon the same way the generation before us fought for Emmett Till."
But in Manhattan Saturday, Beyonce ceded the stage, as it were, to Fulton. "It was a child, who thought as a child, who acted as a child," said the mother of the 17-year-old shot by Zimmerman, who was 11 years his elder.
"Trayvon Martin had the civil right to go home that day," said Sharpton, demanding the government bring Zimmerman up for further prosecution on civil rights violation charges.
The presence of Jay Z and Beyonce at the rally brought up a musical protest movement that seems to be getting underway. Stevie Wonder has announced that he won't perform again in Florida until the Stand Your Ground law is changed, in an effort to instigate the kind of cultural boycott that Arizona once suffered while declining to acknowledge MLK Day as a holiday. And when the celebrity couple were spotted by demonstrators Saturday, a chant could be heard: "No concerts in Florida!"
As seemingly insurmountable as Jay Z and Beyonce are on the celebrity ladder, they were hardly the highest-profile personalities weighing in on Martin's death as a nationally significant tragedy. No less a Friend Of B&Z than President Obama reflected on the case Friday, seemingly extemporaneously. "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago," the commander-in-chief said during an unexpected visit to the White House press room. While not overtly protesting the verdict — "a jury has spoken," he acknowledged — the president added, "I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?... And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws."
The president, who once joked in the middle of a controversy that "I've got 99 problems and now Jay Z is one," has definitely found a problem that he and Hova agree on.