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Civil rights leaders call for action after Zimmerman acquittal

July 17, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Martin Luther King III speaks during the NAACP national convention on Wednesday in Orlando, Fla.
Martin Luther King III speaks during the NAACP national convention on Wednesday… (George Skene / Orlando Sentinel…)

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Civil rights leaders at the NAACP national convention Wednesday called the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer a setback for the movement, and the audience agreed.

As Martin Luther King III and the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton addressed the crowd of a couple of thousand, the audience murmured, “That’s right,” “Amen” and “I remember.”

Sharpton noted that George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Martin, was arrested and charged only after activists marched and petitioned for a Justice Department civil rights investigation and then the Florida governor appointed a special prosecutor.

The trial did not show justice being served, Sharpton said.

“The reason we got a trial is not because the system corrected itself,” he said. “We raised the temperature until the government had to deal with what’s right. We’re going to keep raising the temperature.”

Racism persists in the form of “Jim Crow’s children,” Sharpton said, more sophisticated civil rights opponents he described as “Jim Crow Esquire Jr.”

Sharpton had a message for them: “Our daddy beat your daddy, and we’re going to beat you, too.

“We’re going to stand up. We’re going to fight back. It’s time to march again,” Sharpton said, urging the audience to attend marches on Saturday across the country to demand justice for Martin.

“We’ve come too far,” Sharpton said, “we won’t turn around. We’ve shed too much blood. We’ve spent too many nights in jail.”

King, the eldest son of the slain civil rights leader, said the Martin case “should be a true wake-up call for America, for a lot of folks who thought they were free, and thought that everything is great.”

Someone in the audience shouted, “Yeah, it woke them up!”

“Our children are targeted. Our community is targeted,” King said. “The dream of my father has not been fulfilled.”

Diane Charles, 65, a real estate consultant from Little Rock, Ark., was the one who called out, “I remember.” She remembers Jim Crow, remembers watching civil rights protests on television and having to sit at the back of the bus.

“It is about race,” she said of the Zimmerman case. “We are living in a time of denial.”

Her husband, Dale Charles, 68, president of the NAACP's Arkansas chapter, said he believed Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Latino, violated Martin’s civil rights by profiling him as a black youth.

“What we’re trying to say to America is: All is not well,” he said.

Charles said he was more hopeful about the ongoing Justice Department investigation than about any civil suit the Martin family may file against Zimmerman, because, if “they get a jury like this one, they get nothing.”

Gwyn Gittens, a high school teacher from Ft. Myers, Fla., said she had heard friends complain in recent days that the Zimmerman trial was not about race.

But she thinks of her adult son, who she said was profiled while shopping at a local mall and mistakenly held by police on suspicion of stealing $10.

“It’s a shame that it’s still going on after all these years,” Gittens said. “We’re still trying to do what our parents did. We still haven’t gotten there. You can go to the galleria and buy what you want, but do you have the freedom to wear it where you want and get the same respect?”

That’s why many plan to protest this week, including a rally planned Wednesday night in Orlando, said Estella Williams, who had traveled to the convention from Fort Worth.

“It’s a mass of people who are speaking up and speaking out. That’s the thing I applaud the citizens of this country for doing,” she said. “People are saying enough is enough.”

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