By Manuel McDonnell Smith
Calls from civil-rights and some political leaders for federal legal action against George Zimmerman in the wake of his acquittal in the death of Trayvon Martin reached a major milestone on Tuesday, announced the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which is spearheading one effort.
An online petition titled “Open a Civil Rights Case Against George Zimmerman” cleared 1 million signatures on Tuesday, a milestone reached less than 72 hours after the verdict in the controversial case was handed down. It demands that the Justice Department “address the travesties of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin” by charging Zimmerman with violating federal civil-rights laws. Although Zimmerman was found not guilty by a Florida jury, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous said in a statement that follow-up action by federal officials is appropriate: “The law says you must be able to show that race was a factor and that bodily harm was done. We believe there is enough evidence to satisfy this standard.”
While President Obama declined to comment in detail on calls for the Justice Department to intervene, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder delivered the most substantial remarks by a member of the administration on the issue at the NAACP’s national convention on Tuesday. Holder broadly condemned Stand Your Ground legislation, telling a roaring crowd, “These laws try to fix something that was never broken.” He went on to assert: “The list of resulting tragedies is long, and unfortunately has victimized too many who are innocent.” While Holder’s personal comments may have encouraged the convention crowd, his power to do anything to change the laws will likely be limited, since Stand Your Ground laws are legislated on a state-by-state basis and not at a federal level.
The NAACP’s call for action was joined by MoveOn.org, which provided another platform for the petition. “MoveOn members from all walks of life joined with the NAACP to demand justice for Trayvon and his family because this verdict cannot be the final say in this case,” said Anna Galland, the group’s Executive Director. “We will continue to fight for justice for Trayvon Martin, and we will work to address the deep-seated injustices that continue to plague our nation—from racial profiling to the proliferation of guns, from Stand Your Ground laws to a deeply flawed criminal-justice system.”
Galland’s comment mirrored statements from civil-rights leaders, including Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, to tie this effort to wider protests of the Voting Rights Act and Stand Your Ground laws, and to the upcoming 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. In a fiery speech Wednesday at the NAACP convention, Sharpton called on the meeting’s delegates to join in wider action, promising the fight against Stand Your Ground in Florida as a “test case” for similar efforts to be launched nationally. Channeling the group’s outrage over the Martin verdict, Sharpton said, “The jury has spoken, now the people are going to speak.”
Interested parties can still sign the petitions, which will remain active and open until the Department of Justice completes its case.