Civil rights leaders say the case against neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman is not over. Zimmerman was acquitted on Saturday in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, compares the verdict to the court cases of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers.
Till was a 14-year-old African-American boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955. His killers were acquitted of kidnapping and murder, but later admitted to the crimes in a magazine article.
Evers was an African-American civil rights activist from Mississippi who was assassinated in 1963. Juries made up entirely of white men deadlocked twice on the guilt of the killer, who was eventually convicted 30 years later.
“Trayvon Martin defines this season. It’s the season where young black men are more likely to be jailed, profiled or unemployed or shot,” he told Here & Now.
Jackson says he does not accept the verdict, and is calling on the U.S. Justice Department to file criminal civil rights charges against Zimmerman. He expects a civil suit to be filed as well.
“Not one black lawyer on either side, not one black on the jury, not one male on the jury, and so something about it was stacked from the very beginning,” Jackson said.
Jackson says his message to those who have taken to the streets following the verdict, is to protest with dignity, discipline and non-violence.
“Do nothing that would diminish the moral authority of Trayvon Martin as a martyr in this case. To engage in violence would be to distract from the authentic nature of Trayvon’s witness and would add credence to — and some justification to some — for what George Zimmerman did.”
- Jesse Jackson, civil rights activist and Baptist minister. He is also president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. The verdict is in, and George Zimmerman supporters are thanking the jury that found that he acted in self-defense in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. But an NAACP petition calling for a federal prosecution of Zimmerman picked up hundreds of thousands of signatures. It crashed the site temporarily. There's another petition on moveon.org. And the Justice Department says it will restart an already open investigation to consider hate crime charges against Zimmerman.
In a moment, the stand your ground law that hovered over this trial, but first the issue of race.
HOBSON: Many of the protestors who have taken to the streets in cities across the country say that is what this is all about. Joining us now with his take is Reverend Jesse Jackson, president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Reverend Jackson, thanks for being here.
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: Yes, sir.
HOBSON: So all of this uproar across the country, what do you make of it? Is this about race?
JACKSON: Well, in the greater measure it is. We were stunned with the verdict. We certainly offer prayers for the Martin, really and for the Zimmerman, family in this crisis that we now face as a nation. An interview was stunning to me where Zimmerman said he would follow Trayvon again, he would have his gun out again.
Today, Zimmerman gets his gun back, the one he murdered Trayvon Martin with. There seems to be no remorse about the way this happened. Trayvon was in the right place at the right time, going home, and Mr. Zimmerman was in his position as a wannabe police, he trailed him and killed him.
The 44 days it took us to fight to get even the trial in the first place, he found sanctuary in the police headquarters, never took a drug test, never took an alcohol test. Nothing basic was done. So that's all of this stuff that's convoluted here that makes people so upset.
But there's a Trayvon in every town. It is Oscar Grant, you know, in Oakland. That's the Trayvon (unintelligible). It's Amadou Diallo in New York, shot 41 times by the police. It's Bloomberg in New York, saying that race profiling is all right to reduce crime. It's Stephon Watts, a 15-year-old autistic boy shot by Chicago police. As a matter of fact, last year 57 police shootings in Chicago by police, 57, 93 percent black or brown.
So the pervasiveness of violence is the curse of our time.
HOBSON: But the jury has spoken. President Obama has said we've got to respect this jury. It's a nation of laws. What about that?
JACKSON: Well, the fact is the jury was not a jury of peers. Not one black on the jury and not one man on the jury. It was not a jury of - that was a jury that rendered a verdict in the case of Medgar Evers. The jury that rendered the verdict in the case of Emmett Till. The jurors did not represent him. And when the jurors did become representative, the killers were convicted.
So it was - there was not one black lawyer on either side, not one black on the jury, not one male on the jury, and so something about it was stacked at the very beginning.
HOBSON: So do you accept the verdict or no?
JACKSON: Do not accept it. That's why I think the Department of Justice must intervene now and persue this case to its fullest. There's outcry for that, and there will be a civil suit filed, as well.
HOBSON: Some of the neighbors down in Sanford have talked about eight burglaries perpetrated by young black males as a history that preceded this killing of Trayvon Martin. What do make of that?
JACKSON: In some sense, that's an attempt to justify following and killing Trayvon, and that's not a good thing. I mean, when the guy in the van, white van, blew up the building in Oklahoma City should warrant pursuit of white male driving white vans, of course not. You can talk rationally, justify, (unintelligible) stereotyping, profiling and violating someone's basic civil rights. That's not fair and balanced.
HOBSON: What would be your message, Reverend Jackson, to all of the people who have taken to the streets in Miami, in New York, in Los Angeles, all across the country?
JACKSON: Protest with dignity, and discipline and nonviolence. Do nothing that would diminish the moral authority of Trayvon Martin as a martyr in this case. To engage in violence would be to distract from the authentic nature of Trayvon's witness and would add credence to and some justification, to some, for what George Zimmerman did.
And so do protest with dignity and discipline and nonviolence. Secondly, (unintelligible) register and vote. (Unintelligible) have power. That's why you should fight to have a balanced jury. When you have an all-white jury in Mississippi, and when Emmett Till was killed, the all-white jury said, some members said that the reason why they didn't convict the killers of Emmett Till because they thought he would be jailed, and they didn't think Emmett Till's life was worth a white person being jailed.
The all-white jury in the case of Medgar Evers, they knew who killed Medgar Evers, but they - the verdict was not guilty. In the case here, you have the same consistent pattern. Juries should represent peers. Prosecutors did not demand that because they tried to avoid the issue of race, and of course the defense counsel wants to deny the issue of race because they knew if it came in what the whole world knows it to be, you have a different outcome.
If you'd have had one black juror on that jury, it may have been a locked jury.
HOBSON: Reverend Jackson, it's interesting to hear you put this case in the same category as Emmett Till and Medgar Evers. Is that how you see it in the sort of history of race relations in America?
JACKSON: Yes, I think when Emmett Till was killed, it was a defining moment in that time. It awakened Chicago and the nation (unintelligible) when he was killed so brutally and was innocent. And when Medgar Evers was killed in June of '63, it laid the emotional groundwork for the march of '63, Medgar Evers a veteran of civil rights (unintelligible). It could happen to anybody.
In many ways, Trayvon Martin defines this season. It's a season where young black men are more likely to be jailed, profiled, unemployed, expelled from school, shot. New York Times article, just a few weeks ago, about blacks and whites use - it's about the same rate of marijuana, but a black is four to 30 times more likely to be jailed for it and be criminalized the rest of their lives.
There must be hearings, indeed maybe even U.N. hearings, on the plight of young, black men in America.
HOBSON: Well, what would be your message to them specifically?
JACKSON: One, these young men need jobs, education and transportation, not jails and persecution. When we swing at them and lock them up, (unintelligible) you're kind of swinging at the mosquito. You're not dealing with the swath of poverty and pain and rejection and denial.
HOBSON: Reverend Jesse Jackson, president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Reverend Jackson, thanks.
JACKSON: And thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.