By Rev. Al Sharpton
Two weeks after the inexcusable death of young Trayvon Martin, I received a call from the attorney representing the Martin family, Benjamin Crump. It was a plea for assistance as the person responsible for the 17-year-old’s death was walking around freely as if nothing had happened. George Zimmerman wasn’t arrested that fateful night. George Zimmerman wasn’t arrested the next day. George Zimmerman, in fact, wasn’t arrested for over 40 days after killing a teenager. It was only because of a rallying cry for justice that the Sanford police department had to do its job and place handcuffs around Zimmerman. It was only after tens of thousands marched and protested that a special prosecutor was assigned to the case, who then brought charges that they failed to bring. And it was only then that this case finally went to trial. After this weekend’s atrocious verdict, some are acting as if a trial was automatic from the beginning. Let’s not have amnesia. Grassroots activism and mobilization for truth are the only reason why we even know the names Trayvon and Zimmerman. And they will once again be the reason why we take the fight to a federal level. The jury’s decision has left us with an atrocity and a disgrace to any American who believes in freedom, equality and justice. Interfering with the right of a person to walk home having committed no crime or trespassing is an outrageous travesty and a violation of that person’s civil liberties. Trayvon Martin had a civil right to go home that night. He never made it to his destination because of the actions of one man, and one man alone who was not a member of law enforcement and had no authority to disrupt his right of movement.
The Martin family, their lawyers and I met with U.S. federal attorneys last year to look into the case. They suspended their investigation as the state proceeded with its own. Following this weekend’s incomprehensible decision, we must reinstitute the federal investigation into the protection of the civil rights of Trayvon Martin. My organization, National Action Network (NAN), and I call on people to demonstrate in front of federal courthouses in 100 cities across the country this Saturday at noon. Whether you’re Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, male, female — if you are on the side of truth and progress you must rally this Saturday and push for a federal investigation. If we allow the killing of an unarmed Black teenager to be turned into some sort of circus where the responsible party blames the victim, then we have reached the height of absurdity. But in this moment of frustration, we cannot become so disillusioned that we lose focus. We will not get hopeless in this situation, we will get organized.
Watching protests take place across the country yesterday in support of Trayvon was encouraging. Overwhelmingly peaceful, these demonstrations brought together a cross section of people from all backgrounds and ages to demand justice. We must continue with that same passion and vigor this Saturday, and in the weeks and months ahead. NAN and Martin Luther King III will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’ next month. Another key central theme of the rally will be justice for Trayvon and the protection of civil rights for all the Trayvons of the nation. We will convene in Washington, D.C. on August 24th for the ‘National Action to Realize the Dream’ demonstration (please visit nationalactionnetwork.net for more information). Just as a multiethnic rally of hundreds of thousands pushed for change 50 years ago, we shall do the same in 2013.
Closely observing the Zimmerman trial, one fact served as a glaring reminder of the insanity of the entire fiasco: Zimmerman never was a cop. He was a citizen who was told by 911 dispatchers not to follow Trayvon; he was told, “We don’t need you to do that.” He, a self-professed community watchman, made assumptions such as, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.” Zimmerman even had the audacity to say “f__king punks. These a__holes, they always get away.” Well, who are “they”? The bottom line is, if Zimmerman had not defied the orders of the 911 dispatcher and acted on his own assumptions, Trayvon would be in the loving arms of his parents today.
When states failed us decades ago, it was the federal government that stepped in with federal protections. Today, as we are watching another grave setback to justice, it is incumbent upon the federal justice department to investigate possible civil rights violations in this case. One voice distinctly absent from the court proceedings the last few weeks was that of Trayvon. His voice will forever be silenced because of the actions of one individual. On that horrific day in February of 2012, Trayvon went to the store, bought Skittles and an iced tea. Young Trayvon, who had only recently turned 17, had a civil right to go home. He had a civil right to walk in that neighborhood. He had a civil right to ignore some lone civilian questioning him if he wanted to. He even had a civil right to defend himself if followed and attacked by Zimmerman. Trayvon had undeniable civil rights that are to be protected under the laws of this nation. We must fight for those rights because he no longer can.
This weekend was upsetting and frustrating to many, but we cannot remain in a state of sorrow. While we continue to mourn Trayvon’s death, we must fight for truth. We may have lost the battle, but the war for equality has just begun. Together, we will get there; together we will bring light to the depths of dark injustice that still remains. We owe it to a kid that just wanted Skittles and an iced tea.