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After Zimmerman arrest, activists look to gun laws

By Laura Wides-munoz

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 13 2012 2:21 p.m. MDT

MIAMI — The civil rights groups that turned outrage over Trayvon Martin's death into action say their work is far from over now that his killer has been charged with second-degree murder. Next, they hope to harness the activism to challenge Florida's "stand your ground" law and similar statutes in 24 other states.

But they also worry about maintaining their momentum during what could be a long judicial process and translating it into political action that could help sway lawmakers. The leaders plan to use churches, social media and other means to rally the movement that has already prompted protesters to take to the streets in several major cities.

"Arresting Zimmerman is the beginning of the process. This is a first down, not a touchdown," the Rev. Jesse Jackson told The Associated Press this week from Houston, where he was talking to black church leaders about the Martin case, Florida's gun law and racial profiling.

Martin's death is also being used as a call to action by politicians such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and more traditional gun control groups including the Brady Campaign.

When prosecutors in Florida announced the second-degree murder charge against 28-year-old George Zimmerman on Wednesday, the Rev. Al Sharpton had just opened his National Action Network's annual conference in Washington. Sharpton said attendees immediately began discussing ways to keep attention on Martin's case and pressure governors and legislators to reconsider the self-defense laws.

"How did people hear about it in the first place? The kids heard about it on the radio. They heard about it on social media. That's what we need to continue," Sharpton said. "But school is going to be out soon, so you've got to have infrastructure that goes beyond the students, with black and minority media, with the churches."

His organization is calling for a national "stand your ground" rally on Sunday and plans to announce a rally outside the Florida Legislature in the coming days. Martin's parents are expected to speak at his conference Saturday. A pastor in Detroit is also planning a rally on Monday to support a teacher fired when she encouraged her students to raise money for Martin's family.

Elsewhere, pastors such as the Rev. Raphael Warnock, of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, are writing the case into their Sunday services.

And with 200,000 "likes," the Facebook page called "Justice for Trayvon Martin" is also keeping people informed. It continues to post about art, poetry and events organized in commemoration of the teen.

It's a continuation of an effort that began not long after Zimmerman shot and killed Martin on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. When no charges had been filed by early the next month, the Martin family's attorney, Benjamin Crump, reached out to civil rights leaders around the country.

Martin's parents and their supporters argued that race played a role in authorities' initial reluctance to bring charges. Martin was black, while Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is from Peru.

Rallies as far away as New York, Chicago and D.C. drew hundreds each, while more than a thousand protesters gathered in Miami and thousands more in Sanford. Protesters that included sports and film stars donned hooded sweatshirts like the one Martin was wearing when he was shot. The shooting was even discussed at presidential news conferences, and it became international news.

After an extraordinary 45-day campaign, the special prosecutor who took over the case charged Zimmerman. The neighborhood watch volunteer maintains that he shot the teen in self-defense after Martin attacked him. His attorney plans to cite Florida's "stand-your-ground law," which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight. The law is also part of the reason why authorities were reluctant to charge Zimmerman in the first place.

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