Benjamin L. Crump is lead attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin.
As I travel the country, many people tell me they wish they had been on the jury in the criminal trial of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. I tell them that although they did not have a vote in those proceedings, they do have a vote in establishing Trayvon’s legacy.
This vote, your vote, will be historic. It starts when you sign the Change.org petition by Trayvon’s family to amend “stand-your-ground” laws in 21 of the 31 states where they are on the books. It continues when you cast your vote in the 2014 midterm elections and each election cycle beyond until we make history by passing a Trayvon Martinamendment to the stand-your-ground laws in every state that has them. These actions will make you part of new voting bloc: The Trayvon Martin voter.
Trayvon Martin voters have the potential to become a critical mass influencing several important issues, including stand-your-ground laws, racial-profiling laws and stop-and-frisk policies. Typically, the voter turnout in midterm elections is dramatically diminished from presidential-election years. We can, however, make sure that in the upcoming midterm election Democrats, Republicans and independents across the country turn out to vote for Trayvon Martin amendments. Trayvon voters have a clear cause: capturing the passion over the devastating verdict returned in the trial of George Zimmerman and transforming these feelings into actions that can and will make a difference.
Simply put, this is your chance to vote for Trayvon.
Why is it critical to amend stand-your-ground laws? The Trayvon Martin amendments are common-sense legislation that would alter such laws to prevent the initial aggressor in a confrontation from being able to later claim self-defense. Stand-your-ground laws were not enacted to allow aggressors the opportunity to get away with murdering an innocent person, although this is, unfortunately, what has happened. Law enforcement officers initially cited Florida’s stand-your-ground law in their refusal to arrest Trayvon’s killer, Zimmerman, in February 2012. In large part, this law permitted Trayvon’s killer to walk out of the courtroom and back into society. Passing these amendments would prevent this type of tragedy and protect others, especially children, from being profiled, pursued and killed by aggressors.
In asking the United States to start a conversation about the tragic circumstances of Trayvon’s death, President Obama expressed his concerns and the need to review stand-your-ground laws. Sen. John McCain and other prominent Republicans have joined Obama in questioning stand-your-ground statutes. Even former Florida governor Jeb Bush, the Republican who signed the state’s stand-your-ground legislation into law, has voiced concerns. Regarding the shooting of Trayvon, Bush said in March 2012, “ ‘Stand your ground’ means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.”
Throughout history, positive change has come from tragedy. Society has learned that with time and through action, protests and national movements, change is possible. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 began in large part because of the brutal murder of another unarmed black teenager, Emmett Till, in Money, Miss., in 1955. It took nearly a decade before this tragedy resulted in the passage of the historic civil rights legislation. Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, eventually got to see something positive emerge from something very painful: an acknowledgment that her son’s death was not in vain.
The 1963 murder of Medgar Evers, another unarmed African American, led to positive change. During his life as an activist, Evers organized voter registration campaigns, demonstrations and boycotts to end Jim Crow laws in Jackson, Miss. His death was an influence for the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Even as we fight today for change, and may expect it to manifest immediately, it is important to understand that this process will take time. We should not, however, allow that to be a discouragement. We Trayvon voters must maintain a united front against stand- your- ground laws and continue to fight even at times when our efforts feel overlooked. No matter how seemingly impossible the task, if Trayvon voters remain steadfast, Trayvon’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, will eventually see something positive come out of something very painful : an acknowledgment that their son’s death was not in vain.