More than 350 people were packed into the Allen Chapel AME Church in Sanford, FL yesterday, as officials from the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Nation of Islam urged residents to remain calm but demand that George Zimmerman be arrested for the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman has not been charged in the Feb. 26th shooting and said he shot Trayvon, who was returning to a gated community in the city after buying Skittles and iced tea at a local 7-Eleven, in self-defense.
Benjamin Jealous, national president of the NAACP, told the crowd of concerned residents:
“I stand here as a son, father, uncle who is tired of being scared for our boys. I’m tired of telling our young men how they can’t dress, where they can’t go and how they can’t behave.”
The tensions continue to brew in the Orlando suburb of 53,000 people, as the calls for justice have prompted rallies against the Sanford Police department who let Zimmerman walk free.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said it is sending its community relations service this week to Sanford to “address tension in the community.”
Earlier in the week, the federal agency opened a civil rights probe into the shooting, and in Florida, Seminole County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger said a grand jury will meet April 10 to consider evidence in the case.
At the town hall meeting, people jumped to their feet and cheered when local NAACP leader Turner Clayton Jr. said the federal Justice Department should not only review the investigation, but also take over the Sanford Police Department.
Other civil rights leaders have called for the city’s police chief, Bill Lee, to step down.
Clayton told the crowd:
“This is just the beginning of what is taking place. We’re going to make sure justice prevails.”
Trayvon’s death has called into question Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground Law” that allows people to defend themselves with deadly force and does not require a retreat in the face of danger.
When asked if the law needs to be changed or repealed, Republican Gov. Rick Scott said, “it’s always positive to go back and think about existing laws.”
But during the town hall meeting in Sanford, Rep. Geraldine Thompson promised the law’s repeal would be a top priority for the state legislature’s black caucus.
“If vigilante justice becomes the norm, will visitors feel comfortable coming to our state?” she said.
An online petition urging local authorities to prosecute Zimmerman had drawn more than 700,000 signatures at website Change.org as of early Wednesday.
About 50 defense attorneys and protesters filled the lobby in the governor’s office Tuesday to deliver a letter seeking an independent investigation and a task force to study racial profiling. They applauded when Scott came out of his office to talk to them.
“I will make sure justice prevails,” Scott said. “I’m very comfortable that (state law enforcement) is going to do the right thing. They’re not going to let somebody do something wrong and get away with it.”
Hopefully justice does prevail and Zimmerman is held accountable for the death of Trayvon.