Not very long ago people of color were murdered with impunity. Schools were segregated by law. Voting resulted in death threats. And, then, we changed America. We can do it again.
Nothing can return Sybrina Martin’s son. However, anger can become action. Make Trayvon Martin’s case an agent for action. George Zimmerman, 28, shot and killed Trayvon Benjamin Martin, 17, on February 26, 2012. Martin was unarmed. Zimmerman claimed self-defense. The jury believed him.
This case has opened old wounds. America’s legal system is in question. The role of race debated. Then, what? Zimmerman cannot be tried again in criminal court. The 5th Amendment prohibits it. However, double jeopardy does not preclude a case arguing violation of Trayvon Martin’s civil rights.
Civil rights cases are not new. As early as 1866, the U.S. Congress passed civil rights legislation. Congress knew then State courts would not protect the Constitutional rights of African-Americans. Now, there is a Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Civil Rights Division enforces civil rights laws involving criminal justice, housing, employment, education, disability, and some immigration issues. They are attorneys paid by the Federal government. To submit a complaint or report a possible civil rights violation call: (888) 736-5551 or (202) 514-3847. Their website is: http://www.justice.gov/crt/complaint
George Zimmerman’s arrest, forty-five days after the shooting, resulted from national protests. Diverse voices were loud enough for President Barack Obama to say, “If I had a son he would look like Trayvon.” Remind him. The address for the White House is: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. The number is: 202-456-1111. www.whitehouse.gov/contact/write-or-call#call
Adversity creates advocates. The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 successfully protested segregation. Sanitation workers of Memphis, TN, in 1968, under-educated and over-worked, became advocates for justice. African-Americans, in 2012, organized millions to register and vote. The 50th Anniversary of the ‘March on Washington’ is taking place on August 24 in Washington, DC.. Plan to attend.
Progress is made because Week-End Warriors give their time, money, and talent to the cause of justice. Look around your community. Is help needed in education? Jobs? After-School programs? Voting/Politics? Criminal Justice? Housing? Volunteer personal or professional skills where they are needed.
Complain but then act. Volunteer opportunities are as diverse as the NAACP and Stop Shootin’ in Newark, NJ or Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the ACLU or Dr. Ron Daniel’s Institute of the Black World and the National Council of Negro Women. Or, start a basketball team, baseball league, or teach dance.
Finance your freedom. Local organizations need volunteers and financial contributions. So, give money if there is no time to volunteer on week-ends or after work. Barter legal services or tax expertise or car maintenance. A nonprofit organization with 501(C)3 status means contributions are tax deductible up to the legal limit.
Justice can take time. It is beyond hubris to expect major social change within days of volunteering. The time to write this column, and your freedom to read it, is due to sacrifices made by untold ancestors. They did not require a down-payment in return for investing in future generations; nor should we.
Expect bumps on the road to justice. Not everyone within civil rights agreed with Martin Luther King’s leadership decisions. There may be disagreements about methods and duties on a volunteer job. However, if personality conflicts can be worked out on a “real” job then try to get along with other advocates for justice.
Trayvon Martin would prefer a long life over martyrdom. However, his death can be a call to make life better. As we grieve this verdict, plan how to ensure every 17 year old Black student finishes high school. Share books on Black history with our young people. Practice random acts of kindness, especially right now.
African-Americans have Warrior spirits. Don’t taint that spirit with hate. Instead, channel rage into action – in the name of Trayvon.
Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College in New York City, is author of “Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present,” a writer covering the U.S. Supreme Court, and major legal issues.