'Justice for Trayvon' events held across nation

11:16 AM, Jul 20, 2013   |    comments
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By: John Bacon, USA Today

Rallies remembering Trayvon Martin and pressing for federal civil rights charges against the man who shot him were kicking off across the nation Saturday, a day after President Obama compared himself to the Florida teen.

The National Action Network and activist Al Sharpton are coordinating "Justice for Trayvon" day, saying they expect events to take place in more than 100 cities.

George Zimmerman's acquittal a week ago on all charges in the shooting death of the unarmed black teen touched off protests across the nation. The Justice Department is investigating whether Zimmerman violated Martin's civil rights when he shot the 17-year-old during a February 2012 confrontation in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman, who was a neighborhood watch coordinator, said he fired his gun in self-defense.

"People all across the country will gather to show that we are not having a two- or three-day anger fit. This is a social movement for justice," Sharpton said.

Trayvon's mother, Sybrina Fulton, and her surviving son, Jahvaris Fulton, will speak at a rally in New York City. Trayvon's father, Tracy Martin, will attend a rally in Miami.

Most of the rallies and vigils are planned to take place outside federal court buildings. Sharpton said the vigils will be followed by a conference next week in Miami to develop a plan to address Florida's "stand your ground" law. The law gives people wide latitude to use deadly force if they fear death or bodily harm.

On Friday, President Obama said that all Americans should respect the jury's acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, but white Americans should also understand that African Americans are pained by Trayvon's death and continue to face racial discrimination.

"Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago," Obama said during an impromptu appearance in the White House briefing room.

Obama talked about how he has been subjected to casual prejudice. He also said African Americans need to address the problems of violence in their own communities.

African-American males know they are more likely to be both "victims and perpetrators of violence," Obama said, and "Somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else."

"I think it's important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away," Obama said, and "it's going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching."

Obama told reporters that, like other African Americans, he has been followed by security guards while shopping, and has seen motorists lock their doors or women hold tighter to their purses as he walked near them. "Those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida."

He cited racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and how blacks tend to be charged more often with drug offenses and sentenced to longer prison terms than whites.

The president also questioned the wisdom of Florida's "stand your ground" law and suggested people consider whether Trayvon also had the right to stand his ground, adding: "Do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?"

Obama also paid tribute to Trayvon's parents, saying that "I can only imagine what they're going through and it's remarkable how they've handled it."

In a statement, Trayvon's parents Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton said Friday, "We are deeply honored and moved that President Obama took the time to speak publicly and at length about our son, Trayvon. The President's comments give us great strength at this time."

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