What now? That is the question many of us are wrestling with in the wake of Saturday’s Not Guilty verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial for killing Trayvon Martin. This is obviously a case with deep historical overtones, so as a student of the Civil Rights Movement, I wanted to share some thoughts on where we go from here and what this means.
1. Pressure (and support) the Justice Dept. in Bringing Civil Rights Charges
After the first trial of the cops who beat Rodney King in 1991, the Department of Justice stepped in, brought criminal charges based on violation of King’s civil rights and sent two of the offenders to prison. This is the quickest, simplest path to try enact a measure of justice for Trayvon and his family. Although it’s not a legal slam dunk, after the travesty of lawyering that was the Florida prosecution, the Justice Department can put real lawyers on this case and truly allow Trayvon to have his day in court.
All it requires is the decision of one man - one Black man (Attorney General Eric Holder) - to make the decision to bring the charges. But precisely because Holder is Black, he’ll come under extreme pressure and withering criticism from the Right Wing if he decides to move forward. That is why we have to create as much public pressure as possible to demand that DOJ bring charges. The single most important thing we can do at this moment is to sign and get all of our friends to sign the NAACP’s petition to Holder urging him to act. The petition is HERE.
2. Contribute to the legal costs of a civil suit against Zimmerman
The legal standard of proof for a civil suit is lower than that for a criminal case. Just as O.J. Simpson was found Not Guilty in 1995 but then found liable in a subsequent civil suit, the same can happen with Zimmerman (notwithstanding the complexities and immunities created by the crazy so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws). Such an outcome here could bankrupt Zimmerman and ensure that he literally has to keep paying for the rest of his life. I haven’t yet seen information on how to be supportive in this regard, but we should all stand ready to step in and help at the appropriate time.
3. Support the NAACP
The NAACP, under the leadership of President Ben Jealous, has been exemplary in serving as a moral conscience and organizational hub in this case. From early marches in Florida to national television appearances on Sunday, the NAACP has been extremely effective in bringing pressure to bear in strategic and timely ways (their petition went up a half hour after the verdict came out on Saturday, and nearly 500,000 people have signed it so far). Ben has the media platform, and the Association has the organizational infrastructure to stick with this issue for the long haul, and we should all make sure they have the resources to see this through. And just as the Justice for Trayvon movement is a rainbow affair, so too should support for the NAACP come from friends and allies of all races. You can contribute to them HERE.
4. Continue to Work for Political Change
These crazy “Stand Your Ground” laws were passed through conservative state legislatures with significant corporate and conservative funding, and we ultimately need to change the balance of power in these legislatures. Obama won Florida in 2008 and 2012, and the state is 42% People of Color. In a real democracy, Florida would have a Democratic Governor, and the Legislature would be majority Democrats rather than nearly 2/3’s Republican. It is a similar situation in many other states. It will likely take 6 - 8 years to turn around these legislatures, but we have to till the soil and plant the seeds now. We urge you to continue to work with and support whatever progressive organizations you’re connected to that are trying to increase progressive political power. At PAC+, we will continue to work to identify and back candidates in strategic races and states across the country. In Florida, for instance, our Board member Andrew Gillum is running for Mayor of Tallahassee next year, and candidates such as Andrew, who is just 33 years old, can comprise the nucleus of a new group of political leaders who can methodically take power and reorder the state’s policies and priorities in coming years.
5. Take the Long View and Do Not Despair
Saturday was a setback. A gut-wrenching, soul-sucking setback. But we should not allow our tears to blind us to the fact that, from a historical perspective, we are winning. We are not in the same position as we were with the other traumatic, racially-charged murders in this country’s past such as Emmett Till, Jimmie Lee Jackson, Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others. The Attorney General of the United States is a Black man, selected by a Black President whom we all elected with a new, multi-racial, transformative, majority coalition (there’s a reason Rev. Jesse Jackson, who watched Dr. King get assassinated before his very eyes in 1968 was crying the night Barack Obama was elected President in 2008).
Most importantly, I truly believe that we are witnessing the death rattle of the kind of virulent and blatant racism that has marked much of this country’s history (other forms of more subtle and institutional racism will, of course, persist). And it is precisely because a new era is at hand that defenders of the old way are lashing out and thrashing about as a new order comes into being. Some will resist change and kick and scream, vowing to hold on until power is pried from their cold dead hands. But brick by brick, step by step, and state by state, the world is changing around them. That is what they are so upset about, but that is what should give us hope.
And that will be Trayvon’s ultimate legacy and gift to future generations. The millions who came together to demand Justice for Trayvon can continue to work together to transform power, politics, and priorities in America so that we truly have liberty and justice for all.