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'Justice For Trayvon' Movement Struggles To Find Focus

Posted: July 27, 2013

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For more than a year, supporters of the movement rallied behind a common goal: Make sure George Zimmerman stood before the bar of justice. But after Zimmerman's acquittal, that united front has splintered.

Marchers aligned with the Justice for Trayvon Martin movement called for a federal civil rights action to be filed against George Zimmerman in Phoenix on Monday. Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Marchers aligned with the Justice for Trayvon Martin movement called for a federal civil rights action to be filed against George Zimmerman in Phoenix on Monday. Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Matt York

In the two weeks since George Zimmerman's acquittal, the same activists galvanized by his trial are finding it hard to focus the energy of the Trayvon Martin movement.

For 16 months, supporters of the Justice for Trayvon movement rallied behind a common goal: Make sure Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin, stood before the bar of justice.

But after Zimmerman's trial and acquittal, that united front has splintered.

Martin's father, Tracy Martin, spoke to lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week during a summit on "Black Men and Boys." He told them he wanted legislation that would honor his son's legacy.

"I would like to see that [the] Trayvon Martin name is attached to some type of statute or an amendment that says you can't simply profile our children, shoot them in the heart, kill 'em, and say you were defending yourself," Martin said.

A growing number of celebrities like Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z and Madonna are calling for a boycott of Florida because of its far-reaching Stand Your Ground gun laws.

Author and Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson also spoke before black lawmakers this week, saying that he wants more action from President Obama.

"Just as the president has been unafraid to go to Morehouse [College] and to challenge those black men in public, be unafraid to stand before the rest of America and challenge them, too," he said.

A Call To Organize

Still others are calling for the movement, which has so far been driven by grassroots and social media, to organize on the state level.

Cornell Belcher, a Democratic strategist and pollster, says the Justice for Trayvon movement could take a page from the playbook of the Tea Party.

"You know what the Tea Party would do?" he asks. "They would organize and put pressure on these state legislators who were not where they wanted them to be. And if they won't change this law, then we've got to raise money and we've got to primary them."

Belcher says the competing interests in the movement are not necessarily a bad thing.

"It's not about getting rid of competing interests, because it's never going to happen," he says. "It's about your interest's ability to compete."

Former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume warns that if concrete steps are not taken, Martin's death will be but a footnote in in a long series of tragedies.

"Was it Emmitt Till in '55, and something else in '79 and Rodney King in '93 and Trayvon Martin now?" he says. "We can't keep revisiting this. We cannot do it and we ought not."

Reactive Vs. Proactive

Some have compared the energy surrounding the Martin case to that of the heyday of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s.

But Emory University Political Science professor Andra Gillespie says the civil rights movement of the sit-ins and bus boycotts was proactive, while she sees the Trayvon Martin movement thus far as reactive.

"Trayvon Martin didn't walk home from that 7-Eleven intending to be a martyr or symbol of civil rights," Gillespie says. "He was just trying to get home to watch a basketball game. In the civil rights movement, people took deliberate steps to try to test laws and challenge laws."

Gillespie says it will take time to shift focus from justice in an individual case to justice at a national level, and organizers need to remember that.

"People just need to be apprised at the outset that change would be nice if it happened overnight, but don't hold your breath if it doesn't," she says.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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