Protests for Trayvon Martin, like the one in Washington, D.C. (above), happened in Detroit, New York, Los Angeles and Oakand, Calif., among other cities. See photos A8. COURTESY PHOTO

Protests for Trayvon Martin, like the one in Washington, D.C. (above), happened in Detroit, New York, Los Angeles and Oakand, Calif., among other cities. COURTESY PHOTO

By Hazel Trice Edney
Trice Edney Newswire

Despite historic profiling and brutality of Blacks in America, the “not guilty” verdict of Trayvon Martin’s 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 walking through his neighborhood with a can of iced 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 Feb. 26 (2012) 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.

Sybrina Fulton said, “Dear Lord, during my darkest hour, I lean on you. You are all that I have.”

Tracy Martin said, “Even though I am brokenhearted, 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 federal charges against Zimmerman by the U.S. Department of Justice 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 reenergized 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 lawsuits; 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 announcement of the “not guilty” verdict by a jury of six women, who deliberated 15 hours before returning their decision in the late night of July 13.

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 17-year-old Martin, 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. The following morning, 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 wakeup 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 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, Fla., 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 said, “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.”

Five of the six women were white. One woman was 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 Latina mother. Part of the racial strife is because Martin was apparently profiled because of his race and the fact that he was wearing a hoodie.

For many, the most memorable testimony will be that of Martin’s friend 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 a– 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: 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, Fla.,” 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.”

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