Grief, anger over verdict to be channeled into action, protests

Orlando SentinelJuly 16, 2013 

ORLANDO -- Two days after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in Trayvon Martin's shooting death, the initial grief among supporters of the 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 February 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, Calif.; 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 branch of the NAACP, which is holding its nation

al convention -- 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 get 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.

The DOJ on Monday afternoon appealed to civil rights groups and community leaders, nationally and in Sanford, for help investigating whether a federal criminal case might be brought against George Zimmerman, according to one advocate on the call.

Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law -- who Monday morning joined calls for federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman -- said later in the day that she joined a DOJ conference call to discuss the prospects.

"They were calling on us to actively refer anyone who had any information" that might build a case against Zimmerman for either a civil rights violation or a hate crime, Arnwine said. "They said they would very aggressively investigate this case."

Arnwine said the call was convened by Tom Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice, and included representatives from the FBI, and several federal prosecutors, she said. DOJ officials also said they would open an email address later this week, so people could send in tips on the case.

Justice officials did not respond to an email seeking comment late Monday.

In addition to Arnwine's group, Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Laura Murphy, Washington Chapter head of the ACLU; and several national, Florida and Sanford-based "human relations" groups participated, Arnwine said.

Also Monday, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a speech at the social action luncheon of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority that he shares concerns about "the tragic, unnecessary shooting death" of Martin last year, and he vowed to pursue a federal investigation into the matter, The Washington Post reported.

Holder pledged that the Justice Department would work to "alleviate tensions, address community concerns and promote healing" in response to the case. He is scheduled to appear at the NAACP conference Tuesday.

Congresswoman Corrine Brown 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 Dr. 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 to bring federal civil rights charges against 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.

Bracy's wife, LaVon Wright Bracy, who was among the first black students to integrate Gainesville 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."

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