Civil rights convention seeks federal charges in Trayvon case

ORLANDO, Florida Tue Jul 16, 2013 12:52pm EDT

1 of 2. Community activist Najee Ali holds Skittles and an ice tea during a peaceful protest of the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, in Los Angeles, California July 15, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn

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ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - The not guilty verdict in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin has reshaped a black civil rights convention in Orlando, Florida where delegates are calling for federal charges following a trial they say failed to serve justice.

The civil rights activists were gathering for the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) just 30 minutes drive from where the murder trial took place when the jury issued its decision on Saturday night.

The verdict by a nearly all-white jury of six women in the trial of former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman reverberated around the country and rocked the convention of 3,000 national, state and local officers and members.

Speeches were hastily re-written, agendas altered and conversation in the halls re-focused.

More than 800,000 people have signed an online petition of the NAACP asking U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman, the association said on Monday.

"It was like an atomic bomb dropped," said Michael Edwards, 55, a union official and NAACP member from St. Louis.

On Tuesday the convention will hear from Holder, who on Monday called the death of Martin, an unarmed black teenager, "unnecessary," raising questions about whether he believed Zimmerman, acted in self-defense.

"The Justice Department shares your concern," Holder said, triggering an enthusiastic response from some 14,000 black sorority members at a Washington convention center.

The Justice Department said it would reopen its investigation into the case to determine whether any civil rights laws had been violated by the state court handling it.


The Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 would require the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, shot Martin because of race.

The Seminole County jury in the town of Sanford, Florida rejected the second degree murder charge that Zimmerman acted with ill will, spite or hatred.

Ben Jealous, the NAACP's president, said he cried when he heard of the Zimmerman verdict Saturday night in the Orlando hotel suite where he was meeting with his board and staff. He put his one-year-old son to bed and rushed to comfort the thousand black youth attending the convention this week.

At a nearby hotel, the high school and college delegates, the future of the 104-year-old civil rights organization, reacted viscerally. Jealous found some tears, some anger and some hard to read faces. Grief counselors were enlisted to help.

Jealous had intended for his keynote speech to address the body blow delivered on June 25 by the U.S. Supreme Court in repealing provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 which required federal preclearance of changes of voting practices in jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination.

Instead, the speech he delivered reflected the second blow delivered by the jury.

"These are not only times of great possibility, they are also times of great peril. We hear it in the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder. We see it in the verdict handed down in Sanford two nights ago. And we feel it every time we watch one of our young sons - or nephews - walk out the front door and pull up his hoodie over his head," Jealous said.

Jealous also highlighted efforts to ban New York's controversial "stop-and-frisk" policy used by police to stop people suspected of unlawful activity and frisking those suspected of carrying weapons.

Critics of the policy say it targets minorities and violates their Fourth Amendment rights for protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.


Lenwood Graham, 18, a high school senior from Laurinberg, North Carolina, said youth leaders at the convention talked to them about "how we should not let our anger or emotions cloud our judgment and make wrong decisions."

"I just want to change laws," he said.

Christian Minter, 15, a high school sophomore from Chatham, Pennsylvania, said she now understands her mother's unyielding belief that the world would always be divided along racial lines.

"I thought it wouldn't. It (the verdict) told me it would always be like that," Minter said.

Tony Henderson, 52, an engineer from Seattle worked with youth participating in the convention's annual arts and science competition which in years past has drawn the likes of successful rappers and music producers such as Kanye West and Lauryn Hill.

"The kids thought it isn't like it used to be. This told them it is what it used to be," Henderson said.

The youth delegates rolled out a campaign against violence against black youth with the slogan "A child was shot today," modeled on signs hoisted in another era at NAACP offices that read "A man was lynched yesterday."

(Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta. Editing by David Adams and Andrew Hay)

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Comments (7)
Jameson4Lunch wrote:
The public face the media has put on this trial with shoddy reporting helps ensure racial tensions will continue. This was never a case about race. It was about violence begetting violence. Sadly, that lesson has been lost.

Jul 16, 2013 1:12pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Dr_Steve wrote:
Justice they got. Vengeance is what they want.

Jul 16, 2013 1:15pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
COindependent wrote:
These people fail to acknowledge that in order to be found guilty, there has to be “without any reasonable doubt”. As the prosecution failed to prove that, the defendant was found “not guilty”.

Should the prosecution not have pursued the zero option of second degree murder, they may have had the opportunity to convict Zimmerman on a lesser charge–say involuntary manslaughter.

Those espousing the “unfairness of it all” are doing so without full knowledge of the facts in the case, and are effectively demanding a retrial for the same offense. Double-jeopardy is a cornerstone of our legal system. Additionally, they are assigning no accountability for the actions of Martin that resulted in the fight and the subsequent shooting. The media, the POTUS and the DOJ tried this case prior to the court hearing thus setting the expectation that “justice would be pre-determined”, and not necessarily “served”, to the satisfaction of those now marching in the streets.

Notwithstanding the fact that the FBI identified no factors that would lend this case to being a violation of anyone’s civil rights. Unfortunately, for both parties and their families, this is an absolute disaster with nothing to be gained by either side. Neither money or a prison sentence will bring the young man back. That is the greatest injustice; but is still does not warrant compromising our legal system to pacify those demanding that some price “must be paid”.

Jul 16, 2013 1:18pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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