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Community leaders react to George Zimmerman acquittal in Trayvon Martin case

Community leaders react to George Zimmerman acquittal in Trayvon Martin case
A large crowd gathered to protest in Dudley Square on Sunday in reaction to the acquital of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. (Photo: John Brewer)

Editor’s note: The acquittal of George Zimmerman by a Florida jury in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin unleashed a torrent of opinions. Here is a sampling of those reactions.

Sherrilyn Ifill

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s President and Director-Counsel

Trayvon Martin’s unnecessary death exposes the entrenched nature of racial prejudice in our country and reflects the unfinished struggle to fulfill this country’s promise of racial equality and justice for all.

All Americans must peacefully mobilize and demand protection for our children. We must remember that it was the collective action of individuals and communities nationwide that spurred the arrest of George Zimmerman.  Without the vigilance and vocal demands of people throughout this country, Zimmerman would never have been arrested or prosecuted. Now we must use that same power to continue our fight against racial profiling, and to demand that the lives of our children are honored and valued in society and our criminal justice system.

By continuing to commit ourselves to this work, regardless of the outcome of any single criminal trial, we pay tribute to Trayvon’s life and guarantee that he — and the countless others like him — have not died in vain. 

Randi Weingarten

American Federation of Teachers President

While we believe in the rule of law and the jury has spoken, the implications of the acquittal are profound. It is very disappointing that a racially profiled, unarmed African-American young man wearing a hoodie can be shot dead and there be no consequences for the perpetrator. This case reminds us that the path to racial justice is still a long one, and that our legal and moral systems do not always mesh. The disposition of this case is the antithesis of what we teach our children in school — that the law protects innocent victims and that no one has the right to take the law into his or her own hands. Everyone’s child matters.

Marian Wright Edelman

Children’s Defense Fund President

The outrage over the killing of an unarmed black teenager who was doing nothing wrong must continue until some semblance of justice is achieved. People who want to keep faith in American justice feel uncomfortable, upset and disheartened. Where is the justice if walking while black is enough to get you “stopped and frisked” in New York City and fatally shot in Florida with its senseless violent “stand your ground” law that allows people to defend themselves with deadly force anytime and anywhere they imagine they are or say they feel threatened — even if they are the stalker?

Black children and teens were 17 times more likely to die from a gun homicide than white children and teens in 2010. Since 1963, 59,265 black children and teens have been killed by guns — more than 17 times the recorded lynchings of black people of all ages in America between 1882 and 1968.

Let us refuse to be silent until the killing of black mothers’ sons is as important as the killing of white mothers’ sons. Only then will we have a post-racial America.

Rashad Robinson

Executive Director of ColorOfChange.

This is another tragedy for black families everywhere, and another instance of how law enforcement and our criminal justice system routinely fail black people and communities. As Zimmerman walks away without penalty, the verdict sends a clear message about the minimal value placed on the lives of young black men and boys everywhere.

And it is also a clear lesson about the power of culture and media to shape negative perceptions and attitudes, with grave consequences. We already know that inaccurate media portrayals lead to warped biases against black people, which lead to negative attitudes and aggressive, harmful treatment by judges, juries, police and others vigilantes wielding dangerous preconceptions like George Zimmerman.

In a media environment that continues to cast black men and boys as thugs, it’s not surprising that the tragic death of an innocent young man has become a character trial for black people everywhere. We must change news media practices and the media landscape to present evenhanded, accurate and multi-dimensional portrayals of black people, and all people.