They united and spoke, sang and chanted.
They clapped and yelled, cried and grieved.
And finally, they sat.
Two diverse rallies in Pittsburgh on Sunday merged at the Hill Distict's Freedom Corner to speak out against the not guilty verdict issued Saturday night in George Zimmerman's trial -- culminating with a sit-in that blocked Centre Avenue.
A first group of about 120 people spoke out in Mellon Park around 3 p.m.; many then moved to Crawford Street and Centre at 6 p.m. to continue the discussion with about 200 of their peers, despite the sweltering heat.
But by 6:32, about a dozen people, mostly women, moved from the gathering to sit in the middle lane of the roadway between the Freedom Corner monument and St. Benedict the Moor Church.
"The women always lead the movement," a woman screamed from the curb.
Another woman, who was sitting, yelled to the crowd standing, "How long are you going to listen to people talk?"
Red-eyed, with tears streaming down their faces, two young black women tightly gripped each other's hand as they sat cross-legged on the pavement.
"I am not doing this for me. I am doing this for my sister and brother. ... We shouldn't have to wait for the next thing. You can't plan for this. The next thing could happen tonight," said Bria Thomas, 20, of Observatory Hill.
"I want to feel like this is my country, too. It's not. The system was never built for us," said Brya Adams, 19, of Manchester. "We matter."
Another woman said she couldn't leave her friends' sides.
"This kind of racism leads to people not feeling like they're people," said Helen Gerhardt, a 46-year-old white woman from East Liberty.
After two orders to disperse, 12 remained sitting: six black women, four white women and two white men.
Police cars blocked Centre Avenue from Crawford to Vine Street, and officers stood uphill, stacks of zip-tie handcuffs in hand.
The group discussed the benefits and downfalls of civil disobedience and whether being arrested could affect change.
"We're just enslaving our bodies," a woman said, advising the group that they couldn't make positive change from inside a jail cell.
"If we get up, we're submitting, too. It's lose-lose," a seated woman retorted.
"I feel you. It's modern day slavery," the first woman said.
When the duty commander and commander of the city's North Side police station, RaShall Brackney, arrived, she kneeled in front of those sitting and told them they could continue their protest.
She said she would leave a police car at each end of the block, return the other units back into service, and the group was welcome to stay.
"I would love that we sit here and talk about it and come up with a plan, a sustainable plan," she told them.
One of the black women sitting told the commander, "Sister, I know you, I took hip-hop aerobics with you. But, sister, my question is can you really expect us to put our trust in the police? We can't."
One man told those sitting that the chance of having Cmdr. Brackney on call showed that "God is on our side," telling them that if she wanted to have them moved or arrested, they would have been.
"We're going to do things peacefully," Cmdr. Brackney, still kneeling, told the group. "We're going to do things sustainably -- that means not just for the moment, not just because it's emotional.
"And here's what I want from all our young ladies, and here's what I'm going to suggest: Every time we have a homicide in our communities that's committed by one of us, that we go to that same place and we sit there. That we hold that community accountable, the same way that we want to hold Seminole, Fla., accountable."
This course of action, the commander later said, was to "not [give] any additional fuel."
Traffic was diverted around the block, and the group wasn't causing a major disturbance or endangering other citizens, she said. The commander, who was on duty until 8 this morning, said she would monitor the sit-in through the night.
"The young people need a way to express their confusion about the verdict," said Cmdr. Brackney, who offered to attend a gathering to discuss sustainable plans for the group.
Brandi Fisher, president and CEO of the Alliance for Police Accountability, said she hadn't expected the rallies to end with a sit-in. She said she was proud of and respected those sitting for what they believed in, and she was proud of the police response.
Lexi Belculfine: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc. First Published July 14, 2013 9:15 PM