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“There is a Trayvon in Every Town”: Rev. Jesse Jackson and Florida Youth Activist Demand Justice

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Civil rights groups are calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to file civil rights charges against George Zimmerman after he was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. A petition launched by the NAACP gathered more than 225,000 signatures in the first few hours after Zimmerman was acquitted, temporarily causing the group’s website to crash. The Justice Department responded Sunday that it is continuing to evaluate evidence from an ongoing federal probe, as well as evidence from the state trial. We speak to the Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and Phillip Agnew, executive director of Dream Defenders, a coalition of young people of color in Florida formed after Martin’s death. They have called for a “Takeover Tuesday” protest in Florida’s capital of Tallahassee on July 16. “I think we need to look at the environment that created a situation that grew a George Zimmerman and snuffed out a Trayvon Martin,” Agnew says. “The fact is, our society programs people to be afraid of young people — young people of color specifically.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “People Get Ready,” a song by Curtis Mayfield sung by Lester Chambers along with his son’s Dylan Chambers & The Midnight Transit. The elder soul singer was reportedly attacked by an audience member in California Saturday when he dedicated the song to Trayvon Martin. His son Dylan shared a photo of Chambers after the assault, showing an eight-inch bruise on his back. He was taken to the hospital and released. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

For more on the George Zimmerman acquittal, we’re joined by two guests. In Tallahassee, Phillip Agnew is with us, executive director of Dream Defenders, a coalition of young people of color in Florida formed after Trayvon Martin’s death. They have called for a Takeover Tuesday protest in Florida’s capital of Tallahassee on Tuesday. In Chicago, we’re joined by civil rights veteran, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, president and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin in Florida, where the killing took place. Phillip Agnew, talk about your response to the verdict on Saturday night, where you were, and what your plans are now.

PHILLIP AGNEW: Mm-hmm. I watched the verdict with a few of my fellow Dream Defenders. And, to be frank, the moment crumbled my heart. It crushed me, because, as many people around the country believe, there was a enormous amount of evidence that proved that this was murder, it was cold-blooded murder, and it crumbled—it crumbled me to hear the verdict, to see the joy on the faces of the murderer of Trayvon Martin. And I think that was felt around the country. It was—it was our 9/11. It’s a moment that we’ll never, ever, ever forget.

And so, what we’re planning in Florida and what we saw is, in Tallahassee, our students, 250 of our students, marched to the Capitol. In Miami, in Tampa, in Orlando, in Gainesville, students rose up, and young people rose up, in response to the verdict. And what we’re planning on Tuesday, as you said, is a takeover of the Capitol. If they believed, as many people in the media have stated, that our people were going to destroy their neighborhoods, destroy their businesses, destroy their communities, in response to this verdict, they’ve got another thing coming, because young people are smarter, young people are more organized, and young people are more prepared than anybody has ever given us credit for. And, unfortunately, it took this verdict to show that.

So, on Tuesday, on tomorrow, we’re going to take over Tallahassee. We’re going to call on our lawmakers to answer for their crimes, because though George Zimmerman was found not guilty, the state of Florida is very much guilty. They’ve got a history of disregard for young people. And right now the state of Florida is raising a generation of second-class citizens, overcriminalized young people who have no freedoms, who have no safety, who have no security, who are undereducated and overpopulated in their jails. So, this was a stark realization of it. It crumbled me, but it also strengthened my resolve, as it did for young people around the country and as it did for the Dream Defenders.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Jesse Jackson, where were you when you heard the verdict, and what is your response?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: I was downtown in an NBC studio. We thought that the jury had gone home for the night. We were doing a summation of the first two days, and then the news broke that the verdict came in, that Zimmerman was set free. And we were all stunned, stunned because they spent all the time arguing about the altercation, but none of the time the fact that an armed man saw a—from another neighborhood, saw an unarmed boy going home and violated police appeals to him, and he murdered him, by his own admission. And for 44 days, we had to protest to get the trial in the very first place. And so, it’s just so very clear that here was a case of murder based upon suspicion.

And I looked—as I felt the pain of it all, I thought about what Medgar Evers meant to that generation and Emmett Till to that generation. And now Trayvon speaks for these times, Amy, because an all—a jury without a black, without a male on the jury, where the prosecutors avoided the issue of race, and the defendants sought to deny the issue of race, and race is the big issue in the case—it is a sign of our time, the attempt to dismiss the reality of the quest for equal protection and the racial justice.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Trayvon Martin’s family attorney, Benjamin Crump. The family has not spoken, been publicly seen since the verdict. They were not in the courtroom. But this is their attorney, Benjamin Crump, responding to the “not guilty” verdict in George Zimmerman’s case.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: This morning, Martin Luther King’s daughter, Dr. Bernice King, tweeted me a message that read, “Today is a defining moment for the status of my father’s dream. Whatever the Zimmerman verdict is,” she tweeted, “in the words of my father, we must conduct ourselves on the higher plane of dignity and discipline. Trayvon Martin will forever remain in the annals of history next to Medgar Evers and Emmett Till as symbols for the fight for equal justice for all.”

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn now to the comments made by George Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, after the verdict was announced. He claimed Zimmerman would not have been charged had he been black.

MARK O’MARA: Well, I think that the things would have been different if George Zimmerman was black, for this reason: He never would have been charged with a crime. It seems as though what happened was an event that was being looked into by Sanford Police Department and, quite honestly, as we now know, looked into quite well. I have taken advantage of police departments who have not done a good investigation of crimes, because that’s what I do for a living. When I looked at the Sanford Police Department investigation, they had done quite a good job. And you can compare what they did across the country to see who does good or bad jobs with their investigation, but they were doing quite a lot.

What happened was, this became a focus for a civil rights event, which, again, is a wonderful event to have, but they decide that George Zimmerman would be the person who they were to blame and sort of use as the creation of a civil rights violation, none of which was borne out by the facts. The facts that night, it was not borne out that he acted in a racial way. His history is a non-racist. And you know all the anecdotes about the mentees and the children living in his home when he was young and the Sherman Ware incident. So, if only those who decided to condemn Mr. Zimmerman as quickly and as viciously as they did would have taken just a little bit of time to find out who it was that they were condemning, it would never have happened. And it certainly wouldn’t have happened if he was black, because those people who decided that they were going to make him the scapegoat would not have.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Jesse Jackson, your response to both Mark O’Mara, the defense attorney, and Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Trayvon Martin’s parents?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, you don’t have to be a racist to have a racial stereotype. The assumptions about a young black in a white neighborhood—the fact is, he was in a mixed neighborhood. He was going home to be with his father. If Zimmerman had been black and Trayvon had been white, there would have been a very different response. He would not have walked away from the scene without a drug test or an alcohol test or walk away without being faced with the law that night. Zimmerman walked away without a blood test, alcohol or drugs, walked away for 44 days, until that was protested. So, that is convoluted. What we do know is that he was stereotyped, and he was pursued, over objections, and he was killed with the gun of the armed man. We know that.

But the problem with trying this case again, I think the symbolism of Trayvon—there is a Trayvon in every town. That’s why this is so—it is Oscar Grant in Oakland, killed, and now the movie Fruitvale, is it? Fruitvale. It is Diallo killed in New York City. It is, in Chicago last year, 57 shootings by police, 57 shootings, 93 percent black or brown. There is—there is a Trayvon in every town, so whether it’s the shootings or the expulsions or the jailings. And I thought that the prosecutor, by not demanding a black or male be on the jury, missed a chance to make the case what it really was.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about Mark O’Mara saying he appealed to Mr. Crump to not talk about this as a civil rights case, Reverend Jackson.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, of course it is a civil rights case, and that’s why I think there will be a civil suit filed. I think the Department of Justice will intervene, because of overwhelming public requests for it to take place. And I think that the avoidance of the essence of this case will not do us any real service.

I look, Amy, around the country for—we’re asking people to protest with dignity and discipline. Any act of violence will discredit Trayvon’s legacy. We do not want any violence to occur. We never have, as a matter of fact. We feel that the violence shifts the sympathy from Zimmerman to Trayvon. Trayvon deserves it; Zimmerman does not.

What also pains me is that here are two young men. One is dead in the grave, one is a kind of walking dead. He’s kind of—he’s kind of limiting his life’s options because of something called violence. The whole idea of resolving conflict through more guns, more violence, is a dead proposition. So there’s a certain concern about the life options of Zimmerman, which are very limited, and the life of Trayvon, which exists no more.

AMY GOODMAN: Pending a decision about his concealed weapons permit, George Zimmerman is expected to have his gun returned to him, the gun with which he shot Trayvon Martin. Speaking to ABC News, defense attorney Mark O’Mara said George Zimmerman has, quote, “even more reason” to carry a gun now.

MATT GUTMAN: Does he get that gun back?

MARK O’MARA: Yes, he does.

MATT GUTMAN: How do you think he feels about guns now?

MARK O’MARA: I think that he feels, truly, in his heart, that if he did not have that weapon that night, he might not be here.

MATT GUTMAN: So do you think he would—if he could, he would carry a gun again?

MARK O’MARA: Yes, even more a reason now, isn’t there? A lot more people out there who actually hate him, though they shouldn’t.

MATT GUTMAN: So you’re saying he needs to protect himself.


MATT GUTMAN: And the way to do it is by carrying a weapon?

MARK O’MARA: It’s one way.

AMY GOODMAN: It was not only Mark O’Mara, the defense attorney, who talked about—who talked about George Zimmerman now needing his gun. His brother, Robert Zimmerman, in an interview on CNN said the same, that he would need it now more than ever. What are your thoughts about that, Phillip Agnew, George Zimmerman walking around, afraid, with a gun?

PHILLIP AGNEW: Oh, the irony. Oh, the irony that George Zimmerman would be afraid of a vigilante accosting him in the dead of night and taking his life. Oh, the cycle of violence that is perpetuated by hate.

I’d like to really quickly speak, because as I watched CNN, as I watched HLN, I never saw a young person of color on there able to speak, and I’d like to take this opportunity to speak directly to Mark O’Mara and Don West, who overspoke, who have decided to speak to whether we should be angry, whether we should be hurt at the verdict, and tell them they don’t have any right to speak for us. They don’t have any right to speak to us, because what they’ve done is effectively convinced folks that this is not about race, this is not about hate. And it’s our avoidance of that subject in Florida, it’s our refusal as a country to acknowledge that we still have a race problem in America, that creates environments for a man like George Zimmerman to walk around, as he does now, with a gun, looking to take down black people, looking down—looking to take down young people of color. So, it scares me. Quite frankly, it scares me that this vigilante is able to do that.

But what we’re doing now, what Dream Defenders are doing now, is looking to advance the conversation, with George Zimmerman in mind and with, most definitely, Trayvon Martin in our hearts, move the conversation to a place where young people are at the front, where young people are speaking for us. It’s a new day. And I think we saw that around the country. You saw it a year ago at the death of Trayvon Martin, and you’re seeing it now at the acquittal of George Zimmerman, that young people are taking their power and taking it to the streets. And, unfortunately, it took something like this to happen.

But Mark O’Mara can’t speak for us. He can’t speak to the civil rights nature of this case. He can’t speak to what it feels like to be a young black or brown person in this country, or a young, poor white person in this country. He can’t speak to whether we should be hurt, because we are. And it was a stark realization of that on Saturday. And the fact that George Zimmerman has to now carry a gun, because he feels people are afraid of him, I believe is warranted, but I don’t believe that anybody in my community is going to do anything stupid as the media wants to portray. I believe he has more fear from himself, from his guilt.

AMY GOODMAN: George Zimmerman did not testify during his trial, but prosecutors did present him to jurors by playing part of an interview he did last year with Sean Hannity of Fox News. This is a clip of what the jurors did hear from George Zimmerman.

SEAN HANNITY: Is there anything you regret? Do you regret getting out of the car to follow Trayvon that night?


SEAN HANNITY: Do you regret that you—you had a gun that night?


SEAN HANNITY: Do you feel you wouldn’t be here for this interview if you didn’t have that gun?


SEAN HANNITY: You feel you would not be here?

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: I feel that it was all God’s plan. And for me to second-guess it or judge it, um … [shakes head]

SEAN HANNITY: Is there anything you might do differently, in retrospect, now that time has passed a little bit?


AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Jesse Jackson, your response?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: He murdered him in the name of God. He would not be there doing the interview if, in fact, he had not followed him. He would not have killed him if he had not had the gun. And he would not have been out 44 days, had he not had sanctuary by the Sanford police. And so, everything about this is [inaudible]. That’s why the Dreamers are marching in Florida. That’s why we support those Dreamers. But around the nation, Dreamers must march, and folks under Trayvon, in their town, because the impact of young blacks—the most expelled, the most jailed, the most unemployed or the most killed, the most unemployed—it calls for a real congressional, if not indeed a U.N., study on the plight of young black men in America.

AMY GOODMAN: Following the announcement of the verdict, the prosecution said there was no question that Trayvon Martin had been profiled. This is the state attorney, Angela Corey.

ANGELA COREY: This case has never been about race, nor has it ever been about the right to bear arms, not in the sense of proving this as a criminal case. But Trayvon Martin was profiled. There is no doubt that he was profiled to be a criminal. And if race was one of the aspects in George Zimmerman’s mind, then we believe that we put out the proof necessary to show that Zimmerman did profile Trayvon Martin. But the right to bear arms is a right in which we all believe. I especially believe in that right. What we want is responsible use. When someone feels they have to use a gun to take a life, they have to be responsible in their use. And we believe that this case, all along, was about boundaries and that George Zimmerman exceeded those boundaries.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Jackson, what is your response to those who say that Angela Corey—now, remember, of course, for our audience who is listening around the world, Trayvon Martin was killed February 26, 2012. He [Zimmerman] wasn’t actually charged until April 11th, like six weeks later, because the local police did not charge him, or the local police didn’t arrest him. He wasn’t charged there. So the Florida governor appointed a special prosecutor. She was Angela Corey, a conservative Republican prosecutor. And she was the one who did the investigation, and she is the one who charged George Zimmerman with second-degree murder. Manslaughter was only added in the trial when it looked like, I think, the prosecutors were concerned they weren’t going to get a second-degree murder. Of course, in the end, he was acquitted of both. Do you think—

REV. JESSE JACKSON: She said he was—she said he was racially profiled, it was not about race. You can’t have it both ways. He was racially profiled. That was an assumption that he was a suspect or perhaps up to no good, perhaps up to robbery, in essentially a white neighborhood. He felt free to—and he showed, in that discussion, no remorse. He did it, would do it again. He did it in the name of God. Now he walks around with the gun that murdered Trayvon Martin, with a notch on his gun. That is distasteful. It is unfair. And that’s why the Department of Justice must act quickly, and that’s why the civil suit must be filed quickly, because that is unacceptable.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s interesting, and some people are referring to this case of the last few years, where Angela Corey’s office charged Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old African-American woman, with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after Alexander fired a shot, which she said was a warning shot, at her estranged husband, who had a history of domestic abuse. Alexander was found guilty on three counts. She was tried by Angela Corey in the courtroom and sentenced to 20 years in prison, a mandatory minimum sentence the judge said he had little control over. Is this a case, Phillip Agnew, that you’re familiar with?

PHILLIP AGNEW: Yes. Listen, Angela Corey, once she got her hands on the case, I think most people who had any knowledge of her history knew we were in for a doozy. Angela Corey—Trayvon Martin looks just like the kind of people that Angela Corey likes to convict and send away to life sentences. So, we’re very familiar with Marissa Alexander. I encourage anybody around the country to look her up.

And what we see is a system not built for people of color, not built for the poor, and not built for young people. And I don’t understand why people continue to avoid this, why she even minced words and double-spoke there about the case. We can’t mince words about this. We’re talking very—in a very real way about power. And young people have no power in this state. Power is the ability to act. Power is the ability to transform your future. Power is the ability to influence somebody to move. And for years in Florida, young people haven’t had that power. People of color have not had that power.

And so, what we’ve seen is judges feeling like they can prosecute inordinate amounts of young people to long sentences. We see prosecutors that don’t do their jobs. We see communities that don’t feel safe. I think we need to look at the environment that created a situation that grew a George Zimmerman and that snuffed out a Trayvon Martin. You’ve got to look at criminalization, the fact that our children are pumped out of our schools at record rates for small offenses, for nothing. You’ve got to look at Florida, which charges more young people with misdemeanors than anybody else. I think if you look at rankings, Florida only leads in one way, and that’s the school-to-prison pipeline.

You’ve got to look at racial profiling, which we should try to avoid. But the fact is, our society programs people to be afraid of young people—young people of color specifically. And you’ve got to look at the continuing open season that Stand Your Ground allows. For anybody, because I feel some amount of fear about you—I look at you, and I feel you look like a gang member that I saw on television—I can arm myself and take action against you and take your life. We’re seeing an environment right now where young people are being snuffed out. And I don’t understand how in America we can be happy with an environment, with a generation of young people, who are supposed to be our future, where we’re profitizing them, we’re monetizing them, and we’re killing them. We spoke about Chicago, where Reverend is and where I’m from, and we see every week it’s just a headline about the young people that are being snuffed out there.

This is a new day in America. Young people aren’t going to take this for much longer. And so, as Dream Defenders, we eschew, and believe in nonviolence and in peace, and we’re going to continue that and continue to support that. And you’ve got millions of young people out here that have the civil rights movement as a blueprint. They have history as our compass. And we’re going to use that with the technology that we have today to move some of these people out. Nobody—no politicians should feel safe pandering to young people anymore, because it’s not going to happen that way.


PHILLIP AGNEW: You’re either on our side, or you’re against us.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s your plan for tomorrow, for Tuesday?

PHILLIP AGNEW: Tomorrow, we want to—we’re going to take over the Capitol, and we’re calling on all young people from around Florida to join us in that. And we’re going to call on Congress, who’s on a break right now, to come and address the rampant issues that created George Zimmerman and that exonerated George Zimmerman. So what we’re talking about in a real way is criminalization. We’re talking about the school-to-prison pipeline, zero-tolerance policies, which are the reason that instead being in a restorative justice program in high school, that Trayvon Martin was in the dead of night going to a store in Orlando instead of being at his high school in Miami. We’re going to ask our congresspeople to address Stand Your Ground, which may not have had as much influence on this case, but creates an open season for young people of color. We’re going to address the law enforcement, who uses racial profiling to create a dragnet over our communities and strike fear into our communities. And we’re going to call on our congresspeople to come back to work, because though George Zimmerman was found not guilty, Florida is very guilty.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. Then we’re going to come back, and we’re also going to be joined by Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy, who has been for the last years investigating ALEC. We’re going to talk about the Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and around the country, not that it was used in the actual trial, but was in the initial rationale for not arresting George Zimmerman. And we’re going to talk about gun violence, especially, as Phillip, you say, you’re from Chicago, Reverend Jackson speaking to us from Chicago, the record number of shootings and killings just in that one city alone. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’ll be back with our guests in a moment.

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