(Trice Edney Wire) – Despite historic profiling and brutality of Blacks in America, the “not guilty” verdict of Trayvon Martin killer George Zimmerman continues to stun millions this week as Black leaders vow to seek justice.
Black Americans, joined by significant numbers of Whites, have taken to the streets, social media, and even the pulpit for comfort after witnessing a smiling Zimmerman shake hands with his attorneys, embrace his wife and parents in the courtroom and walk free. The shooting death of the unarmed teenager innocently walking through his neighborhood with a can of ice tea and a bag of Skittles will no doubt be documented among America’s greatest racial tragedies of the 21st Century.
“Trayvon Martin was not on trial, but after being killed on February 26 by George Zimmerman, was strangled again in the trial of Zimmerman,” said Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree. “We won’t forget Trayvon, his birthday or the day that he was killed…Trayvon Martin will be a legacy like Emmett Till. This tragic event will go down in history as an unforgivable death of an unarmed Black child.”
Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, and mother, Sybrina Fulton, were in the courtroom most of the time, but on the night of the verdict, they were both absent. Early Monday they both issued statements.
She said, “Dear Lord, During my darkest hour, I lean on you. You are all that I have.”
He said, “Even though I am broken hearted my faith is unshattered. I will always love my baby, Tray.”
Meanwhile the NAACP, meeting in Orlando this week, has placed its hopes into possible U. S. Department of Justice charges against Zimmerman for allegedly violating Martin’s civil rights. The Justice Department is already investigating.
“Today, justice failed Trayvon Martin and his family,” said NAACP Chair Roslyn M. Brock in a statement. “We call immediately for the Justice Department to conduct an investigation into the civil rights violations committed against Trayvon Martin. This case has re-energized the movement to end racial profiling in the United States.”
NAACP President/CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said, “We will pursue civil rights charges with the Department of Justice, we will continue to fight for the removal of Stand Your Ground laws in every state, and we will not rest until racial profiling in all its forms is outlawed.”
Responding to the threat of a Justice Department charge, defense attorney Mark O’Mara told CNN, “We will seek and we will get immunity from a civil hearing.” Florida’s Stand Your Ground self-defense law reportedly allows defendants protection against law suit; therefore O’Mara says he will fight for protection under that law.
The NAACP’s statements were among a string of reactions from civil rights organizations following the jury of six women deliberated 15 hours before returning the verdict of not guilty late Saturday night.
The verdict followed nearly three weeks of riveting court testimony that included 56 witnesses and a piecing together of the details of the struggle that ensued after Zimmerman followed the teen, telling a 911 operator that he was suspicious and asserted “[F’king] punks. They always get away.” Millions watched the trial and the verdict on live television Saturday night. On Sunday morning – from coast to coast – many pastors took to their pulpits compelled to address the hurt and confusion that spilled over into coast to coast protests this week.
“This is a sobering wake up call, as I shared with my congregation,” said the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of Baltimore’s Empowerment Temple and former NAACP youth director, in an interview. “This generation really hadn’t been confronted with racism in an overt way. Everything that the Hip Hop generation really knows about racism has been from footage and from books. We weren’t there for Emmett Till or for Medgar Evers so the killing of Trayvon is really a wakeup call that it is really our time to take the baton.”
Bishop Noel Jones of the City of Refuge near Los Angeles reminded, “We had to protest to get them to arrest the fellow.” Zimmerman was initially on interviewed by police Feb. 26, 2012 and walked free for 44 days until Martin’s parents contacted national civil rights leaders Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. After they held a march in Sanford, Zimmerman was arrested.
Even President Obama, who once said if he had a son, “he’d look like Trayvon,” weighed in, pleading for peace.
“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America,” the President said in a statement. “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 expected the jury of mostly mothers to respond with sensitivity to the killing of an unarmed teenager. But, Jones reminded, “Those same women have to live with the men who have guns all over the place…So, they’re not seeing a son dying, they’re seeing a husband convicted for having shot another Black man.”
The six women were all White except one, reportedly a Black Latina. The members of the jury remained publicly anonymous in days following the verdict. Zimmerman, 29, is the son of a White father and Latino mother. Part of the racial strife is because Martin was apparently profiled because of his race and the fact that he was wearing a black hoodie.
For many, the most memorable testimony will be that of Rachel Jeantel, who was on the phone with Martin when he noticed Zimmerman following him. Jeantel, 19, of Miami, spent two days on the stand giving her testimony of the encounter. She quoted Martin as saying that a “creepy-ass cracker” was following him as he walked through the neighborhood.
Before his phone went dead, she quoted him as asking, “What are you following me for?” and then yelling, “Get off! Get off!”
Amidst foggy and often conflicting testimonies about who actually threw the first blow or initiated the first physical contact, one thing remains clear. That is that the pursuit of justice for Trayvon Martin is far from over.
“Trayvon Martin’s father did what any father would do to save his son: send him to a place out of harm’s way: a gated community in suburban Sanford Florida,” said Ogletree, also founder and executive director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. “I have spent my career as a defense lawyer, but the death of this Black boy makes me wonder whether we will ever end racial profiling.
As long as we talk about racial profiling in America and beyond, we will always remember what happened to Trayvon Martin.”