By Marc Morial
“Even though I am broken hearted my faith is unshattered.” Tracy Martin, father of Trayvon Martin
We were stunned by the outrageous not guilty verdict reached by a jury of six women in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. We have been following this case since February 26, 2012 – the day unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon, who was Black, was gunned down by George Zimmerman, a White-Hispanic Sanford, Fla. neighborhood watch captain. With no reasonable grounds, Zimmerman assumed Trayvon was a suspicious person, disobeyed police instructions, followed him, fought with him and fatally shot him.
From the beginning, the Florida criminal justice system seemed to treat the perpetrator, George Zimmerman, with more deference and concern than the victim, Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was not immediately arrested and for weeks, he hid behind Florida’s shameful “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law, which allows a person to use lethal force against an assumed attacker.
Zimmerman was eventually charged with second-degree murder, but soon thereafter was released on bond. Repeated attempts to impugn Trayvon’s character and to actually put a dead boy on trial were rebuffed by the judge. But it was clear from the start that Zimmerman’s lawyers and others were basing their defense on the stereotyping of Trayvon as a dangerous, violent young Black boy who would have killed Zimmerman if Zimmerman had not killed him first.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Trayvon was a typical high-school junior who loved sports, music, and aeronautics and was making plans to go to college. On the day of his killing, he was an invited guest in the community and was armed only with a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea. It was he who was being relentlessly followed by a stranger. He was scared, and as the outcome proved, he had every reason to be.
We are outraged by the Zimmerman verdict, and while we accept the jury’s decision under the due process of law, we want to assure Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, as well as millions of their supporters, that this is not over. The National Urban League stands in solidarity with the NAACP, the National Action Network, the Black Women’s Roundtable and others in commending the Justice Department in proceeding with its federal investigation of Trayvon’s killing for possible civil rights violations. We beseech the Department to pursue this investigation to the fullest extent. We are also calling on the broader community to express its outrage by using social media, calling elected officials and mounting a dignified, peaceful yet robust response in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Along with our thoughts and prayers, we pledge a renewed fight in the courts, in Congress, in the media and through public engagement to end racial profiling and secure justice for Trayvon Martin – and help ensure that others like him don’t meet the same fate.
The Zimmerman acquittal, along with the recent evisceration of the Voting Rights Act and the continued dehumanization of young Black men in America, make it clear that civil rights activists and people of goodwill throughout this country still have a big job to do. In this year marking 50 years of civil rights progress, we must renew our commitment to building “a more perfect Union.” There is no celebration without continuation. The 21st century civil rights struggle has never before confronted us so boldly and clearly.
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.