ORLANDO, Fla. – Two days after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in Trayvon Martin‘s shooting death, the initial grief among supporters of the dead teen is being channeled into protests, marches and calls for action echoing across the country.
In Florida, elected officials, civil rights leaders and community organizers are pushing harder for the U.S. Department of Justice to continue its investigation into possible civil rights violations against Zimmerman, the 29-year-old Neighborhood Watch volunteer who killed the unarmed 17-year-old in Feb. 2012.
Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder Saturday night to the dismay of more than 100 demonstrators outside the Seminole County Courthouse and thousands more in New York, San Francisco, Oakland, Atlanta and Miami.
The movement, leaders say, is only beginning to build.
“The response is coming, believe me,” said Rev. Randolph Bracy Jr., former president of the Orange County, Fla., branch of the NAACP, which is holding its national conference – with 4,000 in attendance – in Orlando this week. “We believe in this country that we are a nation of laws but the rule of law has failed us miserably. We can’t angry, we got to get to smart.”
Bracy was in the Orange County convention hall when the verdict was read to a stunned delegation of civil rights leaders that had come to Orlando for their annual meeting.
Immediately, special meetings ensued and NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous made stern calls to action.
Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., was one of several politicians that decried a system she said metes out justice unequally to people of color and sanctions crimes with “stand your ground” laws like the one in Florida.
Quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King, Brown, in a statement Monday, said: “‘The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.’ However it’s not going to bend until everyone gets involved and becomes active in the fight for equality and equal protection under the law.”
An NAACP online petition garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures in the wake of the verdict from people who want the U.S. Department of Justice bring federal civil rights charges on Zimmerman.
Meanwhile, national leaders, media personalities and celebrities have taken to traditional and social media urging demonstrators to remain peaceful and keep their message targeted.
Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said Monday she has been in frequent contact with federal justice officials and is confident they have been building a case that could lead either to a civil rights violation charge or a hate crime charge against Zimmerman. The two charges come from different laws.
Bracy’s wife, LaVon Wright Bracy, who was among the first black students to integrate Gainesville, Fla., schools in 1965, said most leaders recognize getting federal charges is an “uphill battle.” But she said the case has energized people around serious issues and she plans to encourage her community to monitor more closely what happens in the state’s legislature.
“The real ammunition we have is to register as many people as we can at the ballot box,” Bracy said. “We have to change who represents us in Tallahassee.”
The momentum is building.
—The Rev. Al Sharpton‘s National Action Network called on clergymen Monday to hold vigils outside federal court buildings in their communities at noon Saturday.
—The Coalition for Justice for Trayvon — a group of Florida college students and community organizers — mobilized groups of people in Sanford and Tampa on Sunday and plan to storm the capitol Tuesday with their demands to create a “new America.”
“It means creating a country where black and brown communities are treated equally and are as valuable as white people,” said Tefa Tamburo, a University of South Florida student and organizer.
Bracy predicted people who were reticent about getting involved before the trial will be motivated to try and correct this “travesty of the highest order.”
They are people like Naomi Watson — who was raised in Sanford but lives in Orlando — and never believed racial profiling was real until it happened to her. Having lived most of her life in what she described as “upper middle class,” the 62-year-old was stopped while driving a luxury vehicle in a rural Florida county.
“It was jaw-dropping,” Watson said during a Sunday demonstration at Fort Mellon Park in Sanford. “I had the same reaction when the verdict was rendered, ‘No they did not, not again.’”
©2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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