Zimmerman Acquittal Ripples Through NAACP Convention
(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- Gathering in Florida just 30 miles from where a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty Saturday of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, speakers at the NAACP's national convention have turned the event into a rallying cry for action and justice in Martin's name.
Benjamin Crump, the Martin family attorney, Monday morning called for the federal government to take up the cause and for the U.S. Department of Justice to file charges.
Crump thanked NAACP president Benjamin Jealous for calling for the DOJ "to renew their investigation into the tragic death of Trayvon Benjamin Martin."
"It seems like we are still fighting the fight that they fought so many years ago that we thought we won, but yet again here we are again crying out for legal justice," Crump said at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. "It is going to be very important that we remain vocal and vigilant as we ask the federal government to get involved in this investigation because if we are not vocal and vigilant, I can tell you Trayvon's death will be swept under the rug."
The Justice Department released a statement after the verdict saying its investigation is ongoing. The agency has been conducting its own investigation into whether the shooting was motivated by racial pretense, which means Zimmerman could be charged with a federal hate crime even though he was acquitted this weekend in state court in Sanford, Fla.
"The Department continues to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal investigation, as well as the evidence and testimony from the state trial," a spokesman for the Department of Justice said in a statement Saturday after Zimmerman was acquitted.
Zimmerman, 29, was accused of second-degree murder for shooting Martin, 17, Feb. 26, 2012, inside a Sanford, Fla., gated subdivision where Martin's father lived. While Zimmerman admitted to shooting the unarmed teenager, he has maintained the teen attacked him and he acted in self-defense.
The case quickly developed racial overtones when Sanford law enforcement declined to arrest Zimmerman in the slaying of the unarmed black teen. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is originally from Peru.
He was arrested nearly two months after the incident when the state appointed Angela Corey as a special prosecutor and she brought second-degree murder charges against him.
A jury made up of six women found Zimmerman not guilty of both second-degree murder and manslaughter charges Saturday, after deliberating for more than 16 hours in two days.
Crump, the family attorney, said the verdict "broke their hearts again," referring to Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sabrina Fulton.
"Sabrina says she cried, she prayed, she cried some more and then she got up and went to church that morning and when she came home from church she called me up and said, 'Attorney Crump, I will not let this verdict define Trayvon. Our community will define Trayvon Martin's legacy. … We have now got to roll up our sleeves even though we've come a long way. We've got a long way to go to make sure this won't happen to anyone else's child especially in light of this verdict.'"
Throughout his speech, Crump was interrupted by applause from the crowd and he discussed how he sees the potential federal case, saying, "The United State Supreme Court has said that the police cannot profile people, so we are not going to let ordinary citizens profile our children. This could be anybody's child. This could be your child. The precedent has to be set, so we've got to ask the federal government, the Department of Justice, can anybody profile our children, follow our children, confront our children just because they look like us?"
Crump praised the peaceful protesters who have gathered across the country since Zimmerman was acquitted, saying, "We don't have to agree with this verdict. We can be upset with this verdict and that's OK, but we want all the people to be peaceful and I applaud these young people for protesting."
NAACP president Jealous began his address by bringing his own two children on stage and then called for a prayer for Martin and his family. He too joined the call of action, even promising to "roll back 'Stand Your Ground' laws."
"In a democracy, organized people can win every time, but they must be organized," Jealous said. "We will make this country safer for all of our children. …We will pass powerful anti-racial profiling ordinance.
"We will commit ourselves to ending the plague of gun violence on our streets, the plague of gun violence from the bad guys, and the plague of gun violence from the self-appointed good guys, too," Jealous said. "Trayvon Martin wasn't somebody's youth or juvenile. Trayvon Martin was somebody's baby."
The five-day convention officially opened Saturday but picked up Monday with the audience hearing from two lawmakers, who also mentioned the Martin case. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, said "a young life was lost and it brings up more civil rights issues that we all care about."
"Issues like fairness and equal justice under the law and reducing gun violence and a right to trial by jury, remember this that many parts of the world do not try to follow these concepts of justice, consider South Africa when Mandela was in prison," Nelson said. "We are not a perfect nation, but we must try to be improve. Let us keep trying. We shall not be moved."
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called for the nation to "come together" in the "wake of the Trayvon Martin case."
"We must come together as a nation to learn from the tragedy of his death and take steps to ensure the every single life is equally cherished and protected under our laws," Hoyer said. "But, you are all leaders, you are all activists, you are all committed Americans you know as well as I do, as well as anyone who knows the history of this organization, the fight for justice and equality continues."
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