Flanked by pastors from across the country, the Rev. Al Sharpton said Florida will become the “battle ground” for a national effort to repeal the “stand your ground” laws in 29 states because, he said, the law fueled the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Standing in front of the Washington headquarters of the Justice Department, Sharpton acknowledged that the law was not used as part of Zimmerman’s defense but said that Florida rules prevented police from arresting Zimmerman immediately after the shooting.
“Mr. Zimmerman was not arrested the night he killed Trayvon Martin because of stand your ground. The charge to the jury on self-defense was tempered by stand your ground,” Sharpton said.
He has called for supporters to protest in front of federal buildings in 100 cities across the country this weekend. The rallies and vigils will occur in front of federal court buildings at noon Saturday in cities that include Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York, he said.
Next week, Sharpton said, he will convene a group of pastors in Miami to plan a march in Tallahassee because “Florida will be the battle ground for a new civil rights movement. . . . As long as stand your ground is in on the books, we will have the potential of other Trayvon Martins across the country.”
Sharpton was joined by nationally known pastors such as the Rev. Freddie Haynes of Dallas and the Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, and local preachers who included the Rev. H. Beecher Hicks of the Metropolitan Baptist Church, Delman Coates of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton and Bishop Samuel Kelsey of Florida Avenue Baptist. In all, about two dozen pastors were present.
The Rev. Larry West of Mount Airy Baptist Church in the District, who is chairman of the board of the National Baptist Convention, said, “Personally, when I heard the verdict, I became angry because I just didn’t understand how a young boy, 17 years old, going home doing nothing, could lose his life and nobody be responsible.”
On Monday, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told the national convention of Delta Sigma Theta, the largest African American service sorority, that the Justice Department was conducting its own investigation into whether Martin’s civil rights were violated. Referring to the teenager’s parents, Holder said, “They suffered a pain that no parent should endure.”