SANFORD, Fla. — Two attorneys for the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin said that they have withdrawn as his counsel because they have lost contact with him and he is taking actions related to the case without consulting them.
Attorney Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig said at a news conference they haven't heard from George Zimmerman since Sunday. They said that against their advice, Zimmerman contacted the special prosecutor who will decide if he should face charges. A spokeswoman for Angela Corey's office didn't immediately respond to an email and two phone calls.
Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense after following the teenager in a Sanford, a gated community outside Orlando. He said after he followed Martin for a time, he was returning to his truck when the teen attacked him. He shot the unarmed teen to death during the altercation.
Attorney Hal Uhrig said that his legal team is still concerned about Zimmerman, who he said is "not doing well emotionally" and may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The lack of an arrest has led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and the laws of self-defense. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
Craig Sonner, the first attorney Zimmerman contacted, said he agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis until Zimmerman is perhaps charged.
Sonner said he has never talked to Zimmerman face-to-face and that the 28-year-old man has gone into hiding but that he believes he's still in the U.S. Both attorneys said they'd be willing to represent him again if he asks.
Ben Crump, an attorney for Martin's family, said they're concerned that Zimmerman could be a flight risk if he is charged with a crime since his now-former attorneys don't know how to contact him.
"At this point, we're just concerned that nobody knows where he is at. Nobody knows how to get to him," Crump said. -- (AP)
There are few Black families who don’t have a personal story about an unsettling encounter with the police, usually one involving male relatives. For all the encouraging — astonishing, really — racial progress over the last 50 years, the relationship between Black Americans and white law enforcement officers remains fraught with fear, suspicion and, let’s face it, racial prejudice.
The deeply troubling case of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager shot dead by a white Florida man claiming to be part of a neighborhood watch team, has brought those tensions vividly to the surface, reminding Black folk that we don’t get the benefit of the doubt in our encounters with the criminal justice system. That remains true even if you’re a kid lying dead in the grass after you’ve done nothing — nothing — wrong.
That’s because too many law enforcement officers still harbor prejudices that live deep in their subconscious minds, where they record stereotypes, archive bad data and make snap judgments without any conscious thought. Those “implicit biases,” as researchers call them, are not easily dislodged by sensitivity training or diversity guidelines.
In the Martin case, many observers, including several Florida lawmakers and prosecutors, have pointed to problems inherent in the state’s notorious “Stand Your Ground” law, which has invited the violence-prone to claim innocence after provoking deadly confrontations. Even though the investigation is continuing, the law’s broad parameters may allow George Zimmerman, Martin’s killer, to go unpunished.
But I’m equally disheartened by the failure of the Sanford, Fla., police to even arrest Zimmerman. I don’t know a single Black person who believes that a Black shooter in identical circumstances would not have been arrested and charged.
It would not have mattered if the Black shooter were a Ph.D. college professor at a nearby university or a petty criminal well-known to the police. He would have been arrested if he had killed an unarmed white teenager who was returning from a convenience store to the home where his father was visiting. The college professor may not have been convicted if he could afford a good attorney, but he would have been arrested.
That’s because police, like prosecutors, have a huge amount of discretion at their disposal, and they don’t treat Black citizens with the same deference that they automatically — perhaps unconsciously — give to whites. We are troublemakers. We are suspects. We are criminals. See stereotypes, above.
Last week, as calls for justice ricocheted around the country, gaining power, the Sanford City Council issued a “no confidence” vote in its police chief, who decided to “temporarily” step down. Meanwhile, however, City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr., to whom the police report, issued a statement defending them — and straining credibility.
“According to Florida statute, law enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time,” the statement said, according to The Washington Post.
That interpretation of the law is so far-fetched that it borders on outright dishonesty. As the Orlando Sentinel has reported, police officers in jurisdictions throughout central Florida have made arrests in several cases where the survivor claims self-defense. Moreover, two of the Florida lawmakers who crafted the law say Zimmerman should be arrested.
“Police are not allowed to make an arrest unless they have probable cause. There is supposed to be a legal reason, otherwise it’s an illegal arrest,” Willie Meggs, state attorney (prosecutor) for Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit, told me. (His circuit does not include Sanford.)
But when I asked Meggs if “probable cause” is a subjective judgment, he acknowledged as much: “Every day,” he said. In other words, there is no “prohibition” against arrest in the statute.
Prosecutors, too, have wide latitude in the cases they pursue — a discretion that benefits whites much more often than it does Blacks. Among criminal justice experts, it’s well-known that prosecutors press cases against Black defendants even as they drop similar charges against white defendants.
Many of those prosecutors would be gravely offended if they were accused of racism because they believe themselves to be fair and unbiased representatives of the criminal justice system.
Despite remarkable societal progress, some things haven’t changed very much at all. Perhaps that’s the most depressing thing.
Hollywood’s version of Harper Lee’s brilliant novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” turns 50 this year, which offers President Barack Obama a rare opportunity. For once, he can venture, however cautiously, near the touchy topics of race and justice without risking too much of a political backlash.
That’s the unspoken irony in the first biracial president’s showing of the Oscar-winning movie at the White House on Thursday. His praise for Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which he has called one of his favorites, reminds me of how Abraham Lincoln is said to have greeted Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the anti-slavery best-seller “Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly” in 1862: “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”
I attribute the iconic endurance of both books to their depiction of a narrative that haunts our collective American memory. It is a basic narrative of brave, moral, everyday heroes trying to bring fairness to an unjust social order. That narrative culminates in “Mockingbird” with a trial in a small Southern town in the 1930s. Ten-year-old Scout watches from the “colored balcony” as her lawyer father Atticus Finch tries courageously but in vain to defend before an all-white and male jury a Black man who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman.
I admire Lee’s work as a masterpiece of subversion. She subverts an unjust social order by exposing its contradictions through the eyes of a child, a time of life that seldom accepts contradictions without raising questions.
Show, don’t tell, young writers are advised. Lee shows us an unjust social order in operation and leaves it to us to pass judgment.
As much as Stowe’s narrative stoked the passions that led to the Civil War, Lee’s book and the movie, which she praised for its faithful translation to the screen, helped build the emerging national consensus in the early 1960s of support for racial justice and the Civil Rights Movement.
But the years since have disrupted the civil rights era’s clean narrative of good-vs.-evil with harsh complexities of real life.
Most harshly, we saw the “Mockingbird” narrative turned on its head in 1995 with another dramatic moment, played out this time on live television: the racially divided reaction to the O.J. Simpson double-homicide verdict.
As one side of our divided television screens we saw Black folks reacting with joyful relief that a wealthy Black celebrity could receive a fair trial — or, at least, as fair as money could buy. The other side caught white folks horrified that a double murderer may have been set free by a mixed-race, mixed-gender jury.
The horrifying new narrative speaks to inequities and injustices more fundamental than racial inequality. It also speaks to an old concern that people freed from one system of injustice must be particularly careful to avoid repeating those abuses against others.
Which brings us to the current arguments surrounding the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. His death at the hands of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, might well have been no more than a local story were it not for the racial angle. Martin was Black; Zimmerman is the son of a white father and Hispanic mother. Questions of whether a hate crime was committed hang in the balance.
After weeks of rallies and media chatter, many wonder whether Zimmerman, if arrested, can get a fair trail and whether the public will accept it if he does. But the pursuit of fairness is the reason why we have real courtrooms in the real world and don’t rely on the court of public opinion. Unfortunately, it was only after weeks of inaction by local police and prosecutors that Martin’s family turned to the court of public opinion. It was as “The Daily Show’s” “senior Black correspondent” Larry Wilmore put it, “the only court that would hear his case.”
As I watch the Trayvon Martin story unfold, I am reminded of Harper Lee’s memorable message recalled by Scout: “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” That’s a message worth remembering as we search through the facts in pursuit of the truth.
“Everybody is outraged. There is no justice in this.” Tracy Martin, the father of Trayvon Martin
Being a young Black man has been called the hardest job in America. Young Black men are much more likely than white men to be jobless, in jail and labeled “suspicious,” sometimes with deadly consequences. Such was the case on February 26th, when 17-year-old high school student, Trayvon Martin, was shot and killed by a white neighborhood-watch vigilante in Sanford, Florida. The shooter, George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old white Hispanic, noticed Trayvon walking through his gated community and called 911 to report a suspicious person. Instead of following the dispatcher’s instructions and ending his involvement there, Zimmerman continued following Trayvon. An altercation ensued and Trayvon was shot. Zimmerman claimed self defense and has not been charged with a crime. Trayvon’s parents are both heartbroken and outraged. As Benjamin Crump, the family’s lawyer put it, “If Trayvon would have been the triggerman, it’s nothing Trayvon Martin could have said to keep police from arresting him Day 1, Hour 1.”
Of the many unanswered questions in this case, two stand out. First, Trayvon Martin, who had just stopped off at a convenience store, was armed only with a bag of Skittles and a can of ice tea. George Zimmerman, who weighed over 100 pounds more than the victim, was armed with a 9 millimeter handgun. Even if there was a physical altercation between the two, why was such deadly force necessary?
Second, one of the reasons the police gave for not immediately arresting Zimmerman was that he had a “squeaky clean” record. A few days later it was discovered that Zimmerman had been arrested in 2005 for resisting arrest with battery on a police officer. Trayvon Martin, on the other hand, had no criminal record.
These and other troubling facts have led the Central Florida Urban League and others, to call on the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice to conduct an independent investigation. Central Florida Urban League president and CEO, Allie Braswell said, “A private citizen taking law enforcement into his own hands cannot be condoned. If it is found that a crime has been committed, the shooter must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” This case is now generating national attention and we will be following it closely.
We do not know for sure why George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. But we do know, according to a 2011 College Board report, that 45 percent of African-American high school graduates between the ages of 15 and 24 will end up “unemployed, incarcerated or dead.” We also know that the murder of innocent Black men in the American South is nothing new. Fifty-seven years ago, the white murderers of 14-year-old Emmitt Till in the Mississippi Delta were acquitted of the crime in a clear case of racial injustice.
As the father of a 10-year-old African-American son, I join all African-American parents and Americans of conscience everywhere in calling for an end to the war against young Black men and a thorough investigation of the death of Trayvon Martin. — (NNPA)
Marc H. Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.
Every parent raising Black sons knows the dilemma: deciding how soon to have the talk. Choosing the words to explain to your beautiful child that there are some people who will never like or trust him just because of who he is — including some who should be there to protect him, but will instead have the power to hurt him. Training him how to walk, what to say and how to act so he won’t seem like a threat. Teaching him that the burden of deflating stereotypes and reassuring other people’s ignorance will always fall on him, and while that isn’t fair, in some cases it may be the only way to keep him safe and alive.
But sometimes it isn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to protect Trayvon Martin. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon’s English teacher said he was “an A and B student who majored in cheerfulness.” Trayvon loved building models and taking things apart, his favorite subject was math and he dreamed of becoming a pilot and an engineer. Instead, he was gunned down by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain vigilante who profiled him, followed him and shot him in the chest.
His killer, George Zimmerman, saw the teenager on the street and called the police to report he looked “like he’s up to no good.” At the time Trayvon was walking home from the nearby 7-11 carrying a bottle of Arizona iced tea and a bag of Skittles for his younger stepbrother, leaving many people to guess that the main thing he was doing that made him look “no good” was wearing a hooded sweatshirt in the rain and walking while Black. George Zimmerman’s decisions made that suspicious enough to be a death sentence.
Now there is widespread outrage over the senseless killing of a young Black man who was doing nothing wrong and the fact that the man who killed him has not been arrested. People are trying to make sense of the series of gun laws that allowed George Zimmerman to act as he did — starting with the Florida laws that allowed someone like Zimmerman, who had previously been charged for resisting arrest with violence and battery on a police officer, to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon in the first place. Many more questions are being raised about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which also has been described as the “shoot first, ask questions later” law, and gives the benefit of the doubt to Zimmerman and others claiming “self-defense” by allowing people who say they are in imminent danger to defend themselves. Some states limit this defense to people’s own homes, but others, like Florida, allow it anywhere.
As Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, says, this law “has turned common law — and common sense — on its head by enabling vigilantes to provoke conflicts, resolve them with deadly force, and avoid ever having to set foot in a courtroom.” The fear in Trayvon’s death is that this is exactly what has happened so far: that the story told by witnesses, phone records, and Zimmerman’s violent past and earlier complaints during his neighborhood patrols shows an overzealous armed aggressor who followed Trayvon even after police told him to stop, chased Trayvon down when the frightened boy tried to walk away from the stranger following him, and then shot the unarmed, 100-pounds-lighter teenager while neighbors said they heard a child crying for help. The prospect now that Zimmerman might never set foot in a courtroom for the shooting has caused widespread frustration and fury.
Just as sadly, Trayvon’s death was not unique. In 2008 and 2009, 2,582 Black children and teens were killed by gunfire. Black children and teens were only 15 percent of the child population, but 45 percent of the 5,740 child and teen gun deaths in those two years. Black males 15 to 19 years old were eight times as likely as white males to be gun homicide victims. The outcry over Trayvon’s death is absolutely right and just. We need the same sense of outrage over every one of these child deaths.
Above all, we need a nation where these senseless deaths no longer happen. But we won’t get it until we have common-sense gun laws that protect children instead of guns and don’t allow people like George Zimmerman to take the law into their own hands. We won’t get it until we have a culture that sees every child as a child of God and sacred, instead of seeing some as expendable statistics, and others as threats and “no good” because of the color of their skin or because they chose to walk home wearing a hood in the rain. And we won’t get it until enough of us — parents and grandparents — stand up and tell our political leaders that the National Rifle Association should not be in charge of our neighborhoods, streets, gun laws, and values. In Trayvon’s case, his father Tracy speaks for what his family needs: “The family is calling for justice. We don’t want our son’s death to be in vain.” I hope that enough voices will ensure that it is not. — (NNPA)
Marian Wright Edelman is the president of the Children’s Defense Fund.
ORLANDO, Fla. — Special prosecutor Angela Corey said Monday she will not take the Trayvon Martin shooting death before a grand jury.
Corey said she continues to investigate the case and will not involve a grand jury that had been set to meet Tuesday in Sanford, Fla.
Corey said her decision to skip the grand jury shouldn't be considered a factor in determining whether charges will be filed against George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who has admitted to fatally shooting the unarmed Martin.
The announcement means the decision on charges now rests solely with Corey, who had a reputation for not presenting cases before grand juries if it wasn't required. Under Florida law, only first-degree murder cases require the use of grand juries.
Corey took over the case last month after the prosecutor who normally handles cases out of Sanford recused himself. That prosecutor, Norm Wolfinger, had originally called for the case to be presented before a grand jury.
"From the moment she was assigned, Ms. Corey noted she may not need a grand jury," said a statement from Corey's office.
Martin was killed Feb. 26 during a confrontation with Zimmerman in a gated community in Sanford.
The case has led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and the laws of self-defense. Martin was Black; Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
Zimmerman has claimed self-defense, and Florida's self-defense law gives wide leeway to use deadly force and eliminates a person's duty to retreat in the face of danger. -- (AP)
SANFORD, Fla. — The family and supporters of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin found themselves on the defensive Monday following revelations he had been suspended from school for marijuana before he was shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Police also confirmed a report that the watchman claimed Martin was the aggressor, punching him in the nose and smacking his head on a sidewalk.
Martin, 17, was suspended by Miami-Dade County schools because traces of marijuana were found in a plastic baggie in his book bag, family spokesman Ryan Julison said. Martin was serving the suspension when he was shot Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, who was patrolling the neighborhood that Martin was visiting with his father.
Zimmerman, 28, claimed he shot Martin in self-defense and has not been arrested. Because Martin was Blackand Zimmerman has a white father and Hispanic mother, the case has become a racial flashpoint that has civil rights leaders and others leading a series of protests in Sanford and around the country.
Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, and family attorneys blamed police for leaking the information about the marijuana and Zimmerman's claim about the attack to the news media in an effort to demonize the teenager.
"They killed my son and now they're trying to kill his reputation," Fulton told reporters.
The Sanford Police Department insisted there was no authorized release of the new information but acknowledged there may have been a leak. City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. said it would be investigated and the person responsible could be fired.
Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump said the link between the youth and marijuana should have no bearing on the probe into his shooting death. State and federal agencies are investigating, with a grand jury set to convene April 10.
"If he and his friends experimented with marijuana, that is completely irrelevant," Crump said. "What does it have to do with killing their son?"
The state Department of Juvenile Justice confirmed Monday that Martin does not have a juvenile offender record. The information came after a public records request by The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Zimmerman told police he lost Martin in the neighborhood he regularly patrolled and was walking back to his vehicle when the youth approached him from behind. The two exchanged words, Zimmerman said, and Martin then punched him in the nose, jumped on top of him and began banging his head on a sidewalk. Zimmerman said he began crying for help; Martin's family thinks it was their son who was crying out. Witness accounts differ and emergency call tapes in which the voices are heard are not clear.
The Sanford police statement said the newspaper story was "consistent" with evidence turned over to prosecutors.
Earlier, city officials named a 23-year veteran of the Sanford police department as acting chief. The appointment of Capt. Darren Scott, who is African-American, came days after Chief Bill Lee, who is white, temporarily stepped down as the agency endured withering criticism over its handling of the case.
The Sanford City Commission held its first meeting Monday since giving Lee a no confidence vote, which led to his ouster. Martin's parents both addressed the panel, urging them to take steps to arrest Zimmerman. More than 500 people crowded into the meeting, which was moved from City Hall to the Sanford Civil Center.
"We are asking for justice," said Tracy Martin, the teenager's father.
Civil rights leader Al Sharpton warned commissioners that Sanford risked becoming a 21st century version of civil rights struggle in the South during the 1960s.
Sharpton said Martin's parents endured "insults and lies" Monday over reports that their son attacked Zimmerman.
Outside the commission meeting, several thousand people carryied signs, rallied and marched in Martin's support. Organizers said some 2 million signatures had been collected on an online petition demanding Zimmerman's arrest.
Also Monday, an attorney for Martin's mother confirmed that she filed trademark applications for two slogans containing her son's name: "Justice for Trayvon" and "I Am Trayvon." The applications said the trademarks could be used for such things as DVDs and CDs.
The trademark attorney, Kimra Major-Morris, said in an email that Fulton wants to protect intellectual property rights for "projects that will assist other families who experience similar tragedies."
Asked if Fulton had any profit motive, the attorney replied: "None." -- (AP)
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. years ago once said, “Peace is not the absence of war, it is the presence of justice.” How true whether it is in a remote village today in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where the senseless murder-massacre of nine innocent children under the age of 12 and eight others is being mourned and protested by millions of people in that region of the world, or in the town of Sanford, Fla., even after a month of inaction by local authorities, that causes millions of African Americans and other people of goodwill and conscience across America to continue to mourn and to protest the senseless murder of innocent 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Do we really feel the pain, hurt and utter sense of profound loss by the parents and family of Trayvon? Do we have any empathetic sense of what the parents of the murdered children in Afghanistan are feeling? The answers to these questions go far beyond the acknowledgement of grief, sympathy and condolence.
The “absence of justice” is the issue.
The inequalities and injustices in the case of Trayvon Martin especially are so very glaring and obvious. The growing national anger, rage and public disgust are more than justified. We support the protest rallies, marches, and demonstrations in Florida and in every state where people are demanding justice for Trayvon.
But we must also be prepared to channel our anger and disappointment into a constructive modus operandi that can and will eventually rid our society and world of the racial hatred, social enmity and pathological violence as evidenced in Florida and in Afghanistan.
The insulting and disrespectful slow pace of the local and state law enforcement authorities in Florida in the aftermath of the murder of Trayvon is in itself another hideous crime and a consequential affront to human dignity. At least U.S. Sgt. Robert Bales was immediately arrested thousands of miles away from the U.S. while waiting for the filing of formal criminal charges related to the massacre in Afghanistan. Subsequently, Bales was transported to the Federal Prison in Leavenworth, Kan.
But right here inside of the United States, George Zimmerman still has not been even arrested. No police official has arrested Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. No local prosecutor has filed charges before a grand jury. The “absence of justice” for Trayvon and his family is not an isolated matter and is not a unique circumstance. The entire episode over the last 30 days is terribly symptomatic in particular of the plight and struggle of young Black males in America. Racial profiling has had deadly consequences in numerous communities across the nation.
Now the Sanford Police Department is attempting to besmirch the good name of Trayvon and his family. They are leaking questionable information from the local police incident report that seeks to portray Trayvon in a negative manner. It is as if the local authorities in Sanford are determined to try to justify the actions of Zimmerman. Of course there can be no justification of the murder of an unarmed minor under any circumstances. We have to be aware and challenge all those would be lured into the petulant swamp of demonizing Trayvon’s image and lifestyle with typical stereotypical attributes.
No one should be fatally judged by skin color or by clothes type or style. No one has the right to take the life of another human being. We live in a world where the value of all life has been lowered too low. No child should be the victim of the hatred and violence from those who may have become deranged with a trigger-happy blood thirst.
We must protect our children by protecting all children. Yes, we will continue to demand justice for Trayvon Martin and justice for all people young and old who have been victimized by the forces of oppression and avarice. We therefore have to continue to march, demonstrate, protest, register to vote, raise our consciousness, and mobilized the masses of the people to demand justice and equality for all.
And yes, we need to pray together and stand together for a new America and a new world. That is why I agree with the “Prayer for Trayvon” uttered by Russell Simmons. He stated: “By committing to purifying our own hearts first, we can ensure that Trayvon’s death is a cataclysmic event out of which will arise a new America. A country where we celebrate and embrace our shared humanity, rather than hate each other over our perceived differences.”
There will be no peace until there is justice for Treyvon and all of those who have been murdered by the ruthless hands of madness, violence and hatred. Let’s keep Trayvon’s young spirit alive in all that we will do to make the world a better place. Occupy the Dream. Occupy equal justice…… occupy the future.
SANFORD, Fla. — The police chief who has been bitterly criticized for not arresting a neighborhood watch volunteer in the shooting death of an unarmed Black teenager temporarily stepped down Thursday, saying he wanted to passions to cool.
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee's announcement came less than a day after city commissioners gave him a "no confidence" vote, and after a couple of weeks of protests and uproar on social media websites. Lee has said the evidence in the case supported George Zimmerman's claim that the Feb. 26 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was self-defense.
"I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to a city which has been in turmoil for several weeks," Lee said.
Martin was returning from a trip to a convenience store when Zimmerman started following him, telling police dispatchers he looked suspicious. At some point, the two got into a fight and Zimmerman pulled out his gun.
Zimmerman told police Martin attacked him after he had given up on chasing the teenager and was returning to his sport utility vehicle.
The shooting ignited racial tensions in this Orlando suburb. Civil rights groups have held rallies in Florida and New York, saying the shooting was unjustified.
The police chief continued Thursday to stand behind his agency's investigation.
"As a former homicide investigator, a career law enforcement officer and a father, I am keenly aware of the emotions associated with this tragic death of a child. I'm also aware that my role as a leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation," Lee said.
It wasn't immediately how long the police chief would step aside.
The Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation, and the local prosecutor has convened a grand jury April 10 to determine whether to charge Zimmerman.
Some people believed Lee should step down for good.
"If they wanted to defuse a potential powder keg, he needed to resign," said pastor Eugene Walton, 58, who was born and raised in Sanford. "His inaction speaks loudly to the Black community."
News of the police chief's decision to step aside spread quickly among the 1,000 protesters who had shown up more than two hours before the start of the rally Thursday. They chanted "The chief is gone. Zimmerman is next."
Some carried signs that said: "100 years of lynching, justifiable homicide. Same thing." Others sold T-shirts that said: "Arrest Zimmerman."
"It's the norm around here, where anything involving Black culture, they want to wipe their hands of it," said Shella Moore, who is Black and grew up in Sanford. -- (AP)
Feb. 26 will mark one year since 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by a gun wielded by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman after he saw Trayvon walking home from a 7-Eleven with a bag of Skittles and bottle of Arizona iced tea.
Black children, youths, and families know first-hand that the killing of Black children by gun violence is not new but a relentlessly unreported and under-reported plague that has been disproportionately snuffing out Black children’s lives for a very long time. Fifteen percent of children and teens are Black but 45 percent of all children and youths killed by guns in 2010 were Black. Black boys 15 to 19 years old were 28 times more likely than White boys the same age to be killed in a gun homicide.
Shortly after President Kennedy’s assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that it was time for our nation to do some soul-searching, and while the question “Who killed President Kennedy?” was important, answering the question “What killed President Kennedy?” was even more critical. Dr. King believed the answer was that “our late President was assassinated by a morally inclement climate”: “It is a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence. It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder. It is the same climate that murdered Medgar Evers in Mississippi and six innocent Negro children in Birmingham, Alabama.” Dr. King further noted that the undercurrents of hatred and violence that made up this morally inclement climate were fueled by our cultural embrace of guns: “By our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.”
The same winds of hatred, storms of violence, and easy access to and glorification of guns that Dr. King believed killed President Kennedy would soon also kill Dr. King. Fifty years after Dr. King described our morally inclement climate, the outward signs of racial intolerance and hatred have undoubtedly diminished but there are still far too many reminders of the dangers lurking everywhere that devastate us all—like Trayvon’s senseless death for walking home while Black. Between 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and 2010, nearly 60,000 Black children and teens were killed by guns, over 1,200 every year for 48 years. This is 17 times the number of reported lynchings of Black Americans of all ages since 1882 but we have not had an equivalent Black community anti-lynching movement to save our children from gun violence.
While there are troubling undertones of racial suspicion and fear in Trayvon Martin’s killing which must be addressed as justice is sought, the fact is that most Black young people murdered by guns are killed by Black shooters —just as most White children and teens murdered by guns are killed by White shooters. Sadly the tragedies of Tucson, Aurora, Newtown and elsewhere made clear that none of us are safe anywhere or immune to the pervasive threat of gun violence.
We are all in the same boat and must act together to stop the plague of violence. Gun safety laws that only apply in one city or state can’t fully stop our national epidemic of gun proliferation and violence any better than we can stop a flu epidemic by vaccinating one family. We must struggle together to stop gun violence and to change the morally inclement climate that Dr. King warned about if we are going to protect all of our nation’s children everywhere. – (NNPA)
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.