By George E. Curry
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Demonstrations are planned for 100 cities this Saturday, July 20, to protest George Zimmerman’s acquittal for murder and manslaughter in connection with the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. and to urge the Justice Department to investigate whether Martin’s civil rights were violated.
On Saturday night, an all-female jury acquitted Zimmerman of all charges, freeing him from further criminal prosecution in Florida.
At a rally in front of the Justice Department Tuesday, Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network (NAN), announced that “Justice For Trayvon” prayer vigils will take place in front of federal buildings in 100 cities on Saturday to add pressure on the Justice Department to bring a civil case against Zimmerman.
NAN planning a statewide drive in Florida against its “Stand Your Ground” law. a movement that can be spread to 28 other states that have similar laws.
Attorney Genera Eric Holder addressed the annual convention of the NAACP Tuesday in Orlando, not far from where Trayvon Martin was killed by Zimmerman as he returned from a nearby convenience store to purchase a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona ice tea.
Holder raised questions about “stand-your-ground” laws that allow Florida and other states to permit a person who feels threatened to use deadly force.
“Separate and apart from the case that has drawn the nation’s attention, it’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods,” he said.
Holder said self-defense has always been a legal defense for using deadly force when retreat was not an option.
He said, “But we must examine laws that take this further by eliminating the common sense and age-old requirement that people who feel threatened have a duty to retreat, outside their home, if they can do so safely. By allowing — and perhaps encouraging –violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety.”
Benjamin Crump, the lead attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family, said Zimmerman racially profiled Martin because he was an African-American youth dressed in a hoodie-style sweat shirt.
“That’s profiling. And there’s a big question whether that’s allowed, and so I think the Justice Department should look at that,” he said on CNN’s “New Day.”
Crump, who has likened Martin’s death to those of civil rights icons Medgar Evers and Emmett Till, told reporters that the dead teenager’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, will weigh their options about whether to file a wrongful death civil lawsuit against Zimmerman. He said Sybrina Fulton was devastated by the verdict.
“She cried, she prayed to God, and then she cried some more,” Crump recounted. “She said, ‘I will not let this verdict define Trayvon. We will define our son Trayvon’s legacy.”
Shortly after the trial, Tracy Martin tweeted. “God blessed Me & Sybrina with Tray and even in his death I know my baby proud of the FIGHT we along with all of you put up for him GOD BLESS.”
Since the verdict, there have been dozens of demonstrations across the country, most of them peaceful. More than 2,000 distraught demonstrators gathered in front of the CNN Center in Atlanta. At a demonstration in front of the Justice Department Monday, Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative said, “We want the Justice Department to assure that other African-American males will not be killed because they ran into a White American who was afraid of their presence.”
In one of the rare demonstrations involving violence, some protesters ran through the streets of Los Angeles, attacked people on the sidewalks and raided a local Wal-Mart store. About a dozen people were arrested.
At emotional rallies around the nation, some protesters carried bags of Skittles, the candy that Trayvon Martin bought just minutes before his death on that rainy night, and others wore hoodies, a garment Martin was wearing when he was killed.
Dominating the airwaves and social media, many are making their voice heard.
A petition by the NAACP on moveon.org requesting a Justice Department investigation into the case has drawn more than 500,000 signatures. Another petition on the site called for a boycott of Florida, similar to the successful one launched against Arizona when it refused to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.
“Florida is not a safe place to take your family for vacation as long as Florida law permits a citizen to shoot or kill you for merely looking suspicious, and to do it with impunity,” the petition says. “Boycott Florida tourism until this dangerous law is overturned. If the murder of Trayvon Martin isn’t enough to get lawmakers’ attention, maybe a loss of revenue to the state would be.”
In a statement, National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Chairman Cloves Campbell, Jr., publisher of the Arizona Informant, said:
“Like many Americans, particularly African-Americans, I am deeply disappointed that George Zimmerman has been acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges and is now enjoying his freedom after killing an unarmed, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin whose only “crime” was walking while Black.
“Because of Zimmerman’s unjustified actions, Martin, who was returning from a trip to a local convenience store when he was profiled by Zimmerman, will never get the chance to celebrate another birthday or experience the joy of earning a high school or college diploma or to even be hugged or kissed by his loving parents. His young life was taken away by a neighborhood watch captain who kept a close watch on African-Americans who had as much right as he had to be in that Sanford, Fla. neighborhood.
“Zimmerman ended Trayvon’s life, but he will not and cannot terminate our unceasing quest to be respected as human beings. We join with the NAACP and other civil rights groups in requesting the United States Department of Justice to continue its investigation into whether Zimmerman violated Trayvon’s civil rights when he spewed profanity, followed Trayvon after being told by a police dispatcher not to do so, and fired the fatal shot that killed Trayvon’s dreams and those of his family.”
Writing on his blog, Sharpton said, “Closely observing the Zimmerman trial, one fact served as a glaring reminder of the insanity of the entire fiasco: Zimmerman never was a cop. He was a citizen who was told by 911 dispatchers not to follow Trayvon; he was told, “We don’t need you to do that.” He, a self-professed community watchman, made assumptions such as, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.” Zimmerman even had the audacity to say “f__king punks. These a__holes, they always get away.” Well, who are ‘they?’ The bottom line is, if Zimmerman had not defied the orders of the 911 dispatcher and acted on his own assumptions, Trayvon would be in the loving arms of his parents today.”
Zimmerman’s parents, Robert and Gladys Zimmerman, granted an interview to ABC News. When asked if his son were a racist, Robert Zimmerman replied: “Absolutely not. He’s never been taught to be a racist.”
In that same joint interview, from which excerpts were aired on television Monday, Gladys Zimmerman said that if given the opportunity to speak with Tayvon’s parents, she would say: “We are deeply sorry for this tragedy.”
Many Travon Martin supporters expressed disappointment with President Obama’s statement on the verdict.
In his statement, Obama said: “The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher.
“But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.
“And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis.
“We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.”
Many Americans, ranging from the well-known and the unknown, have found different ways to honor the memory of the slain youth.
During a concert Sunday in Quebec City, Stevie Wonder said, ”I decided today that until the Stand Your Ground law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again. As a matter of fact, wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world.”
Pop star Beyonce’s concern started in Nashville Saturday night about 30 minutes after the Zimmerman verdict. Before beginning her performance she said, “I’d like to have a moment of silence for Trayvon.” The stage was darkened for the silent tribute. Beyonce then sang the chorus of “I Will Always Love You.”