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NAACP Calls For Federal Action


We're going to turn now to Ben Jealous. He is the head of the NAACP, the country's oldest civil rights organization. He spoke with us this morning by cell phone from Orlando, Florida where he has been following the Zimmerman trial. And I started by asking him simply what his reaction was to the not guilty verdict.

BEN JEALOUS: We were heartbroken. We had hoped that while this trial had galvanized a generation much in the way of the Emmett Till trial did 60 years ago, that the verdict this time would reflect the gravity of what happened. Reality is that if Mr. Zimmerman had respected the police enough to do what they asked and stayed in his vehicle, Mr. Martin would still be with his family today.

MARTIN: You mentioned Emmett Till. I mean, from the beginning, your organization and others have held this case up as an important bellwether for civil rights in this country. Can you explain why? Explain its significance to you and the NAACP.

JEALOUS: Well, you have to go back to the leaks when Trayvon was laying dead and buried and funerals had occurred and, you know, the few (unintelligible) services that occurred and George Zimmerman was still free walking the streets. You have to go back to the fact that the detectives in the case were there at the scene had recommended that he be charged and the chief had overruled them.

And this was a chief who was the seventh of seven chiefs in five years in a department that had been plagued with a series of problems often that seemed to be impacted by the race of who was in their crosshairs. And so because of all of this, mostly because justice was delayed for so long, we got involved and we called for Mr. Zimmerman to be brought as he was in front of a judge and jury.

And, you know, ultimately our faith is always in that this justice system will get better and better and will become more and more fair, and in the democratic process. That's why we are encouraging people to call on the DOJ to continue the process of letting justice run its course and continue their investigation and ultimately bring civil rights charges, and we're calling on people to be peaceful but if they want their voice to be heard, to be part of the many peaceful demonstrations that are going on across this country.

MARTIN: This is obviously a complicated case. I'd like to ask you, it is possible, isn't it, that the jurors could have found that George Zimmerman was indeed racially profiling Trayvon Martin, but that then Zimmerman was still acting in self-defense. It is difficult to square both of those ideas.

JEALOUS: It is. Well, you know, what's important is that we keep in mind that our standard in this country, for very good reasons, is a reasonable doubt standard. All that this verdict means is that six of Mr. Zimmerman's peers did not find beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of murder or manslaughter. It does not actually mean that Mr. Zimmerman should have killed Mr. Martin. It does not mean that Mr. Zimmerman was right to get out of his car.

It does not mean that he had the right to eventually purchase a firearm with no safety. And so it's important that we keep this in perspective. And it also - just as Mr. Zimmerman's family asked for the country to put faith in the justice system, so do we. We also remind the country that the justice system still has more moves to make in the case of Mr. Zimmerman.

MARTIN: You mentioned that your organization is pressing the Department of Justice, you're asking for people to sign a petition; many have done so, even crossed your website. But I wonder what, realistically, what do you hope the Justice Department would be able to do?

JEALOUS: We hope that the Justice Department will continue to do what they're doing now, which is to investigate this case, to monitor all the deliberations here in the state. That's typically what they do. There's be a criminal phase. It is likely to be followed by a civil phase. In a civil phase, you know, Mr. Martin would have to testify. Typically, in these types of cases, DOJ will look at everything that happened in the courts down here and then will make a final judgment. What they will be looking for is whether race played a factor in Mr. Zimmerman's targeting young Mr. Martin.

And the reality is that we look at all the dozens and dozens of calls that he made year in, year out, of fearing young black men (unintelligible) boys. When you listen to the boys in his neighborhood, they spoke to the media last year, saying that they felt like they were unfairly targeted by him again and again.

When you listen to his own voice, these punks always get away, when you look at the fact that he disregarded the police when they said stay in your car. You know, one has to wonder and I think that it is reasonable for people to wonder. And I looked at young people who were grieving last night, they said, look, Michael Vick got two and a half years for killing a dog.

A woman just north of here, a black woman just north of here in the Jacksonville area got 20 years for firing warning shots over the head of the man who had domestically violent.

MARTIN: And you're hoping the Justice Department can continue the investigation? I'm so sorry. We're going to have to leave it there. Ben Jealous...

JEALOUS: Yes, we are. Yes, we are.

MARTIN: Thank you, sir. Ben Jealous is the president and CEO of the NAACP. Thank you so much for joining us.

JEALOUS: Thank you. Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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