Nothing can be done to bring back Trayvon Martin or to undo what happened that tragic night of Feb. 26, 2012, when the unarmed Florida teen was shot to death by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman.
Martin is a 17-year-old the entire country has come to know, not because of how he lived, but how he died.
While I can only imagine the pain still felt by his parents and family, I clearly understand the anger expressed by thousands of strangers after learning of his death, and the utter disappointment that many feel after a trial that resulted in Martin’s shooter being acquitted.
And yet, despite the heartache and utter frustration surrounding this case, I am prepared to move on — with a renewed spirit and a recommitment to addressing injustices, fighting extra hard to help protect our youths, changing bad laws and, yes, constantly confronting that age-old plague of racism.
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Soon after Martin was killed and widespread protests prompted Florida officials to charge his assailant, I wrote that protesters should realize that their outcry had been heard, that they had moved the system to action and the wheels of justice were in motion.
“Let them move deliberately and fairly toward the truth,” I said then. “The outcome is still likely to leave the country divided over another tragic incident.”
I don’t know that we got the truth, or that we'll ever know it. What we do have is a verdict, reached after a fair trial, and that decision by the jury must be respected.
As President Barack Obama said in a statement: “I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.”
As predicted, the verdict exposed the fissure of racism, which has divided this nation for generations. It is an issue that we talk about only in times of crises, often brought about by some insensitive verbal assault or a vicious physical attack on an individual or group.
We talk about it for a little while on radio and TV shows, at a few community meetings or perhaps during one-on-one discussions in the workplace. Then we quickly return to business (and complacency) as usual, and wait for the next racial crisis to arise.
Martin’s death, Zimmerman’s trial and renewed protests have once again ignited a dialogue on race.
Attorney General Eric Holder, in responding to the Zimmerman verdict, told the Delta Sigma Theta sorority Monday that it was time for an honest discussion on the “complicated and emotionally charged issues that this case has raised.”
The issue is becoming more “emotionally charged” partly because of Holder, who noted that the Justice Department is still investigating the case. In addition, we now have some civil-rights leaders and members of Congress calling on the department to charge Zimmerman under federal civil-rights law.
The NAACP, whose convention Holder addressed Tuesday in Florida, has started an online petition calling for civil-rights charges to be brought against Zimmerman. Within 24 hours after the petition was started, about 400,000 had signed it.
There was a time in our history when filing charges of violating a person’s civil rights was necessary because Southern local and state justice systems would not indict whites accused of killing blacks or, if they did, all-white juries acquitted the white defendants regardless of the evidence.
No federal charges should be brought in this case. Just because you don’t like the outcome of a state trial is not a good enough reason to demand a federal one.
Zimmerman has been acquitted; leave him be.
Martin is dead. Remember him, honor him in some positive way, but let him rest in peace.