Alternet, July 24, 2013
By Alyssa Figueroa and Alana de Hinojosa
The ongoing public outcry over Zimmerman’s acquittal may actually spark some change.
George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin left many Americans shaken. Perhaps it was the sheer clarity of the verdict, which sent the message that in this country, a person can racially profile, stalk and kill a kid — and walk away free. The verdict inspired tens of thousands of people to get on the streets nationwide. Government officials, civil rights leaders, athletes, celebrities and even President Obama have spoken out.
A Washington Post-ABC News Poll revealed that Americans were split on the verdict. However, 86 percent of African Americans disapproved of the verdict, while 51 percent of whites were in favor of it. While the numbers reveal a racial divide, multi-racial groups are still forming to seek justice. Indeed, the ongoing outcry over Zimmerman’s acquittal is so strong, persistent and diverse that it may actually spark some change.
Here are eight signs that Zimmerman’s acquittal may have big ramifications.
1. Rallies and vigils for Trayvon Martin continue.“Justice for Trayvon” rallies have been happening nationwide, nearly non-stop. These rallies, sometimes including vigils, conjured anger around the unjust killing.
Over the weekend, rallies took place in more than 100 cities around the country including New York City, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, Denver and Austin. In Los Angeles, people shut down a highway for 20 minutes. In New York, it’s estimated that 10,000 marched, with Jay-Z and Beyonce among them. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network helped organize many of the protests, was also in attendance as well as Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton. Fulton spoke out at the rally, saying: “We have moved on from the verdict. Of course we’re hurting. Of course we’re shocked and disappointed. But that just means that we have to roll up our sleeves and continue to fight.”
Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, led a rally in Miami, where protesters gathered and sang, “We Shall Overcome.” He said: “I vowed to Trayvon, when he was lying in his casket, that I would use every ounce of energy in my body to seek justice for him … Senseless violence is a disease and we as a people have the cure, we just need to come together.”
2. NAACP puts pressure on the DOJ. The NAACP is leading the way in pressuring the Department of Justice to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman. On Saturday, the organization launched a petition stating that, "The most fundamental of civil rights — the right to life — was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin.” The petition garnered 1.5 million signatures in three days.
The NAACP’s president, Ben Jealous, spoke to senior DOJ officials to pressure them to continue their investigation of the case. Attorney General Eric Holder has said a thorough investigation will be conducted as to whether Zimmerman violated civil rights law. Sanford Police Department said it turned over all the evidence, as well as Zimmerman’s gun, to the DOJ. Holder has called Martin’s death “tragic” and “unnecessary.” He also said the DOJ “will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law. We will not be afraid.”
3. Activists organize a sit-in at Rick Scott’s office. A group of young activists have held a weeklong occupation of Florida governor Rick Scott’s office, demanding that he call a special session on the state’s "Stand Your Ground" law and racial profiling. The activists, called the Dream Defenders, have organized different working groups that will make sure the group sustains its ability to occupy. They also announced that they are planning on holding weekly demonstrations in the state’s capitol, similar to North Carolina’s "Moral Mondays" protests.
On Monday, Scott said he supports the Stand Your Ground law and will not hold a special session. The Dream Defenders say they are ready to occupy his office until he calls the special session. Several Democrats in the state’s House have come out in support of the activists and hope to hold a hearing on the law during the legislature’s next committee week. So far, protesters have had no trouble with the police.
4. “Stand Your Ground” laws face fierce criticism. While the Dream Defenders demand a special session on “Stand Your Ground,” protesters nationwide have made the law a focal point. At least 22 states have laws similar to Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws.
While activists protest the laws, prominent figures have also called for their reassessment. Eric Holder said the laws may encourage violence and “senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods.” U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also agrees these laws need to be reviewed. On Tuesday, Arizona state senator Steve Gallardo called on the state legislature to review Arizona’s version of Stand Your Ground. Alabama state senator Hank Sanders announced there will be an effort to repeal the law in his state.
Obama also spoke out directly against the law during his speech on Friday, saying: “And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these Stand Your Ground laws, I’d just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? … And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.”
5. Everyone boycotts Florida. Within days of Zimmerman’s acquittal, calls to boycott Florida abounded. Stevie Wonder announced during a performance in Canada that he had canceled upcoming shows in the Sunshine State, and would not perform there until Stand Your Ground laws are repealed. "As a matter of fact, wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world," Wonder said.
There was some noise about travelers canceling trips to Florida, and heading to other warm places like California and Mexico. Huffington Post’s associate travel editor encouraged his readers to jump on board the travel boycott with his piece, “Travelers Can Save the Next Trayvon Martin By Avoiding Florida.”
Tweeters condemned those planning to visit Disney World, tweeting, “Shame on you! Go to Disneyland instead.”
On the official "Visit Florida" Facebook page, one commenter echoed what seemed to be a slew of angry comments calling for a Florida boycott: “I really LOVE vacationing in Florida, but I cannot, in good conscience, take my kids to Florida, or visit Florida again ever!!”
Martin Luther King III called for a national boycott of Florida oranges and orange juice last week. A Facebook page titled "Boycott Florida" (with more than 3,000 likes) outlined a list of “Top Florida companies that depend on your dollar,” which included Carnival Cruise Co., Tupperware Corporation, and restaurants like Olive Garden and Red Lobster.
One angry Twitter user summed up the sentiment when she tweeted: “Until we hit their pockets, nothing will change.”
Al Sharpton also announced that his National Action Network may propose boycotts on corporations that still support the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a corporate-sponsored lobbying group that is a major supporter of Stand Your Ground laws.
6. There’s a renewed call for gun control. Though this surprisingly hasn’t been at the forefront of the responses to Zimmerman’s acquittal, there have been renewed calls for gun control that may grow in time. The Brady Campaign, the nation’s largest citizens’ lobby to prevent gun violence, issued a statement on the Zimmerman verdict, which read: “There is sharp disagreement over the verdict, but there can be no disagreement over the reason why Trayvon Martin is dead. George Zimmerman had a gun that night, and the state of Florida allowed him to carry it virtually anywhere despite a violent history.”
The statement also spoke out against Stand Your Ground as well as concealed weapons laws. The Brady Campaign, along with the parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis (another black 17-year-old Florida resident shot by a white man), filed an amicus brief “asking the entire United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to review and reverse a 2-1 decision that held Illinois law restricting the public carrying of firearms unconstitutional.”
Meanwhile, gun enthusiasts are pushing the narrative that Zimmerman’s case had nothing to do with gun laws. One gun group, called the Buckeye Firearms Association, is fundraising to buy Zimmerman a new gun, after the court confiscated his weapon and passed it on to the DOJ.
In a recent blog in the Huffington Post titled “Where is Gun Control?” Sanjay Sanghoee called on Democrats to fight harder to pass gun control legislation. He wrote:
"In the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict, President Obama once again brought up the need for gun control, but sincere as he might be, words are not enough. The President, and the Democratic party, need to follow it up with action. Setbacks may be a part of our political process, but they are not an excuse to do nothing."
7. Plans Revamped for MLK’s 50th anniversary of the march on Washington. Plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech are being revamped as angry and frustrated reactions over the acquittal of Zimmerman and the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act quickly multiply. Such fast-escalating resentment has senior figures in the civil rights movement expecting a significantly larger turnout – so large, in fact, that it could nearly double the number of those who heard King speak in 1963, bringing the running total to close to half a million.
According to NAACP president Benjamin Jealous, expectations are high because the Zimmerman case and the Supreme Court ruling have accented how far America is from realizing King’s dream. Jealous told the Guardian: “The march has gone from being seen by many about primarily about the past, to being urgently about the present.”
8. Obama’s unprecedented statement. President Obama delivered an unexpected and surprisingly bold speech last week, articulating why the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin may well be the moment to reflect on race and race relations in the United States. With no script in hand, Obama spoke to why the killing and verdict has been especially painful for the black community due to “a history that doesn’t go away.” He also spoke of his personal history growing up as a black man in America.
Obama also stated there is a sense "that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different." Obama concluded by calling on the nation to do a little soul searching. It seems Obama has finally done some himself.