African-American faith leaders vowed Tuesday to harness anger over the Trayvon Martin case to overturn “stand-your-ground” laws and reassert the case for greater civil rights.
Speaking outside Department of Justice headquarters, Reverend Al Sharpton announced a National Justice for Trayvon Day for Saturday with rallies outside federal buildings and court houses in more than 100 cities nationwide.
“People all over the country will gather to show that we are not having a two- or three-day anger fit,” said the civil rights firebrand, flanked by more than a dozen other African-American clergy members.
“This is a social movement for justice.”
Sharpton added that “tens of thousands” would converge on Washington for a protest march on August 24, the Saturday before the 50th anniversary of the late Martin Luther King’s historic mass march on the US capital.
Saturday’s acquittal of gun-toting neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed Florida teenager Martin has stirred anger and unrest across the African-American community.
Sharpton is pressing the Department of Justice to reopen a civil rights investigation into the incident that was suspended when Zimmerman was arrested six weeks after the killing.
US Attorney General Eric Holder, calling Martin’s death “tragic and unnecessary,” called Monday for a dialogue on the racially-charged issues it raises, but he stopped short of announcing civil proceedings.
Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network, pledged a major campaign against so-called stand-your-ground laws in Florida “and 29 other states” that allow citizens who feel threatened to use lethal force in self-defense.
“The stand-your-ground law was not used directly at this (Zimmerman) trial, but it had everything to do with what happened at this trial,” he said, adding that such laws represented “a new threat to civil and human rights.”
“Let us be clear. It is now because of these laws where anyone walking, committing no crime, can be followed or approached by another civilian, and they can use deadly force and say it was self-defense,” he said.
“That is something that is frightening and cannot be allowed to sustain itself in this country.”
Setting out a strategy against stand-your-ground laws — including a boycott of corporations known to support such legislation — will be the topic of a three-day meeting of faith leaders in Miami next week, he said.
Separately, the Hollywood Reporter said Tuesday that pop music legend Stevie Wonder has vowed never to perform in any state or country with a stand-your-ground law on its statute books.
“I decided today that until the stand-your-ground law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again,” it quoted Wonder as saying Sunday in Quebec City, where he was playing the Canadian city’s summer festival.
“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.”
Tre Littlejohn, 16, an African-American high school student from Columbus, Ohio, happened upon Sharpton’s sidewalk press conference Tuesday while touring Washington with a hometown church group.
“To me, I think the justice system is all messed up,” he told AFP when asked what the Martin case meant to him.
“I could go do something to someone of a different race and be prosecuted like that,” he said, snapping his fingers.
“I mean, the man (Zimmerman) was told (by a police dispatcher on the night of the incident) not to follow this kid, but he did anyway. I feel the whole situation is unfair not only to the children of our race, but also to the age groups under us.”
His cousin Daelon Norris, 14, said he was at home in Columbus when he learned of Zimmerman’s acquittal.
“My first reaction was, ‘This is crazy’,” he said. “He just killed an innocent boy who wanted some Skittles (candy). He should be placed in jail for life… This world is crazy.”