Disheartened but not defeated by the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, civil rights leaders announced plans Monday for rallies to be held across the country calling on the Justice Department to pursue an investigation into whether any civil rights violations were committed by George Zimmerman against Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26 2012 when he shot and killed Martin.
National Action Network and the Rev. Al Sharpton plan to join hundreds of preachers across the nation, with plans to hold prayer vigils and rallies in front of federal buildings in 100 cities on July 20. More than 200 clergy joined a planning call held Sunday evening, and began urging congregants to register in various cities at the National Action Network's website. The response traffic on Monday afternoon was so high that the site became inaccessible for hours at a time.
"The reality is Florida has dropped the ball and the Department of Justice is going to have to pick it up," Pastor and organizer Jamal-Harrison Bryant explained on Monday'sPoliticsNation. The protests on Saturday, along with the 50th Anniversary March on Washington, will also focus on gun laws and Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. (Zimmerman did not use a "Stand Your Ground" defense; he pleaded not guilty saying he had shot Martin in self-defense.)
Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, Senior Pastor at the Grace Baptist Church and Chairman of the Board at NAN, joined PoliticsNation Monday to talk about the overwhelming response he's seen to the Zimmerman verdict. "Too often have we've been where we are now, at a place of disappointment and frustration," Richardson said. "Fifty years from 1963, we're back at the same place all over again," he said. "This is recurring, it's frustrating, but the church must incubate our disappointment and turn it into opportunity."
The organized rallies set for Saturday will come less than a week after impromptu rallies sprang up in cities across the nation on Sunday. From Detroit to Atlanta, Cleveland to Washington, thousands marched, largely in support of Martin. In Los Angeles they shut down the freeway. In New York, they took over Times Square. And in keeping with the calls for non-violence, the vast majority of protesters did not riot--as some had predicted--with only a handful of exceptions in Oakland.
While many of Sunday's rallies focused on generic calls for justice, those planned for this Saturday will focus on a specific goal: seeing the Justice Department take action. The Justice Department released a statement Sunday confirming that they have an open investigation into the case. "Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the Department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial," the statement read.
Attorney General Eric Holder was more emotional, but equally non-committal as to where the investigation might lead as he addressed concerns Monday. "As we firstacknowledged last spring, we have opened an investigation into this matter," he said in a speech at an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. "Independent of the legal determination that will be made, I believe that this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly about the complicated and emotionally-charged issues that this case has raised. We must not--as we have too often in the past--let this opportunity pass."
"I want to assure you that the Department will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law," he told the audience. "We are committed to standing with the people of Sanford, with the individuals and families affected by this incident, and with our state and local partners in order to alleviate tensions, address community concerns, and promote healing. We are determined to meet division and confusion with understanding and compassion--and also with truth."
Zimmerman was acquitted of second degree murder and manslaughter; he said he shot Martin in self-defense. After the verdict, defense lawyer Mark O’Mara said race had not played any role in Zimmerman’s actions that night and said his client had been made a “scapegoat” by civil rights advocates. “I think that things would have been different if George Zimmerman was black for this reason: he never would have been charged with a crime,” he said. “The facts that night, [it] was not borne out that he acted in a racial way,” O’Mara added. “His history is a non-racist.”
Editor's note: George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company strongly denies the allegation.