NEW YORK, New York, CMC – A Grenada-born American legislator has joined a chorus of condemnation of a not guilty verdict by a Florida jury in the murder of an unarmed Black teenager by a White neighbourhood watch volunteer.
“The murder of Trayvon Martin is but the most recent example of profiling in America, a practice that is discriminatory at its best and deadly at its worst,” said New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who represents the largely Caribbean 45th Council District in Brooklyn, New York.
“Our society must be re-examined at every level, from law enforcement to criminal justice to the basic way we relate to each other,” Williams, a vociferous critic of the New York Police Department’s “Stop and Frisk” tactics, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) on Monday.
“Laws like “Stand Your Ground” (in Florida) are not only inhuman. They have exacerbated some of these basic problems,” said Williams, the co-vice chair of New York City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.
“Furthermore, they are fuelled by a gun culture that is literally killing our children one by one.”
Prosecutors said that, on February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman, 29, shot Martin, 17, in a quiet neighbourhood in Sanford, Florida.
But, after three weeks of testimony, an all-white, six-woman jury on Saturday night rejected the prosecution’s claim that Zimmerman had deliberately pursued the teenager.
Zimmerman claimed that he shot Martin in self-defense after the teenager knocked him to the ground, punched him and slammed his head repeatedly against the sidewalk.
In its not guilty verdict for murder or manslaughter, the jury agreed that Zimmerman was justified in shooting Martin because he feared great bodily harm or death.
The verdict has touched off national debates, outrage and protests about what many describe as the continued racial profiling and endemic discrimination against Blacks and other minorities.
In New York, a day of peaceful protests gave way to arrests and bottle throwing Sunday night, as thousands took to the streets to vent outrage over the verdict.
Police reported that at least seven demonstrators were arrested.
“We are sick and tired of being sick and tired. What we are now charged with is the responsibility to sustain our unity and have our emotions fuel a relentless pursuit of reform.
“In 2013, it should not be this difficult, by every statistical metric, to be a Black man in America,” Williams added.
Last year, US Attorney General Eric Holder, the grandson of Barbadian immigrants, began an investigation into whether the deadly confrontation between Zimmerman and Trayvon was motivated by racial profiling, but he stepped aside to allow the trial in a Florida court to proceed.
But, on Sunday, the US Justice Department seemed willing to re-open the case.
“Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate,” it said in a statement.
Three Black US Democratic congressmen in New York whose constituents are largely Caribbean nationals – Hakeem Jeffries, of Brooklyn, Gregory Meeks, of Queens, and Charles Rangel, of Harlem – have also called on the Justice Department to conduct an “immediate and thorough investigation to determine if our nation’s civil rights laws have been violated”.
Meantime, as protests and outrage intensify over the verdict in the Martin case, US President Barack Obama, the first Black man to be elected president of the United States, has called for calm.
“We are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son,” he said.