Civil rights leaders and pastors who are involved in mobilizing people in connection with the Trayvon Martin case are applauding the president for speaking out about a case that could prove to be a seminal moment in this country in terms of race relations.
President Obama, responding to a question about the shooting death of the 15-year-old Florida boy, talked about the case in personal terms. “When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids . . . every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this,” he said.
Rev. Al Sharpton said in an interview, “It was extremely important that the president has weighed in on this issue because it further raises the need to deal with the issues raised by this case . . . around the country.”
Sharpton, who has been working with the family and lawyers for Trayvon Martin, said there will be a series of rallies in Sanford, Fla., and in Tallahassee, with the aim of pressuring law enforcement officials until the alleged shooter, George Zimmerman, is brought to justice.
Regardless of the legal situation, Sharpton said, the incident has been a “wake-up call” for the country and for “those who have suffered from the illusion of a post-racial generation.”
He added: “I think that the sentence has been written by those of us who have marched and raised these issues. The period was last night, when over 30,000 people came out to the rally, but the exclamation point came when the president spoke today.”
Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, said the incident has pricked the hearts of a new generation of activists. “History is going to record that Sanford, Florida, is this nation’s Selma, Alabama,” he said.
Bryant is to lead a march in Sanford, Florida on Monday because, he said, that day will mark a month since Trayvon Martin was killed. “The hoodies are the uniforms of this generation, and they are seeing that any of them could be targeted,” he said.
“We have found our own Rosa Parks,” Bryant said. “A young woman throws flour on Kim Kardashian and was arrested on the spot, but here is a young black boy who was shot and killed, and his assailant is walking free.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson said Martin’s death could be a transforming moment, like the killing of Medgar Evers or the killing of Emmett Till. “We romanticize racial progress, but we are still not equal in this country,” he said.
“We need to make visible the Civil Rights commission with a staff. We must update our capacity to document to these heinous acts,” Jackson said. “The media acts so surprised, but these acts are so common.”
In addition to reiterating that the Justice Department and the state of Florida is looking into the case, the president had a message for the parents of the slain teenager. “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” he said. “We’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
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