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Child Watch® Column: "Justice Denied"

Release Date: July 14, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, is as important as the killing of White mothers’ sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.
      - Ella Baker, Leading Mentor of Black Youth, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960’s

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.
      - Benjamin Crump, lawyer for Trayvon Martin’s parents

The reaction to the not guilty verdict from George Zimmerman’s jury was swift and strong. Young people poured onto the streets in peaceful protests in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, D.C. By 3 a.m. more than 100,000 people signed an online petition urging the Justice Department to pursue civil rights violation charges against George Zimmerman.

The outrage over the killing of an unarmed Black teenager who was doing nothing wrong must continue until some semblance of justice is achieved. People who want to keep faith in American justice feel uncomfortable, upset and disheartened. Where is the justice if walking while Black is enough to get you “stopped and frisked” in New York City and fatally shot in Florida with its senseless violent “Stand Your Ground” law that allows people to defend themselves with deadly force anytime and anywhere they imagine they are or say they feel threatened even if they are the stalker?

Many decades of struggle and progress to eliminate racial profiling, arbitrary arrests, unfair sentencing, imprisonment and criminalization of Black males at younger and younger ages are being reversed by determined special interests like the gun lobby putting profits before the most basic American civil rights. The National Rifle Association and their allies’, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), determined efforts to support and pass "Stand Your Ground" and other destructive laws to protect guns rather than children perpetuates the epidemic of gun violence, especially for Black male teenagers like Trayvon Martin.

Black children and teens were 17 times more likely to die from a gun homicide than White children and teens in 2010. Since 1963, 59,265 Black children and teens have been killed by guns -- more than 17 times the recorded lynchings of Black people of all ages in America between 1882 and 1968.

What made a Black male teenager in a hoodie walking home in the rain appear suspicious and “up to no good” in George Zimmerman’s eyes? Would he have stopped a White male teenager? Isn’t it long past time that we have a candid conversation about how we can create a post-racial America for our children and grandchildren beginning today?

Let us refuse to be silent. If Trayvon Martin’s parents had been silent and other voices had not joined with them, George Zimmerman never would have been arrested and never would have been brought to trial. Let us continue to refuse to be silent until all the George Zimmermans of this world are deterred and held accountable for vigilante justice against Black males. Let us refuse to be silent until the killing of Black mothers’ sons is as important as the killing of White mothers’ sons. Only then will we have a post-racial America.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Kathy at: July 21, 2013
Dear Ms. Edelman, I am an admirer of yours. I agreed with many of the things you said regarding Trayvon Martin. However, I would like to comment on your questioning that white men who act as vigilantes might seek to defend themselves "with deadly force anytime and anywhere they imagine they are or say they feel threatened even if they are the stalker.." I felt very sad when I heard the verdict of "Not Guilty." I had hoped that George Zimmerman would at least be convicted of manslaughter. I believe it is extremely dangerous for ordinary citizens to arm themselves with guns and act as vigilantes. George Zimmerman certainly was terribly in the wrong to follow Trayvon Martin, especially since the police had told Zimmerman not to get out of his car. It appears that Zimmerman acted largely out of racial bias, in assuming Martin was "up to no good" and following him. However, it appears to me, from what I have read, that at some point that evening, Trayvon Martin was on top of Zimmerman and slamming Zimmerman's head against the concrete sidewalk. If that had happened to me, if my head had been slammed into concrete, I think I would have believed my life was in danger. If I were carrying a gun, I can imagine I might have used it, if I believed my life was in danger. I see this as a tragic case. I am glad so many Americans are talking about the terrible problem of racial prejudice in our country, as a result of this tragedy. I hope people will also talk about the ideals upon which our system of justice was founded, ideals which are very difficult for imperfect humans to follow, but which remain outstanding ideals to follow: that each person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that juries must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt before convicting anyone of any crime.

Submitted by Joy.Anders at: July 19, 2013
Trayvon Martin's family has been in the public's eye for over a year. It is time to put this to rest. The police nor the DA's office made this case to be a racial circus of he is white (Zimmerman) and he is black (Trayvon Martin).It was a sad and tragic event the night Trayvon was killed. As a mother who lost a small child I feel the Martin pain. Parents of all races need to start at home having talks with their children about the affects of sterotyping and the dangers that go along with it. In my book we all bleed red and we are all God's children.Sometimes God let's things happen in our lives (as tragic as Trayvon Martin last days here with us)to help us grow nearer to him. My prayer is that one day we can live in this world without racism. Yes Zimmerman should have been found guilty of manslauter or something however the DA's office messed that all up. They made it look like a circus and that's what freed Zimmerman from this crime.

Submitted by Kedmond at: July 18, 2013
Something productive has to come out of this obvious disregard for human life. And we have to stop supporting people, and agendas, that inwardly hate us, (as a people,) or seeks to obtain the resources our ancestors wept, died, and where persecuted for. The time to recognize the civil rights and laws that were put in place by the sacrificing of our people, in hopes of protecting the future generation of Black boys & girls, like Trayvon birthright have been snatched away and given to help and aid white women,(who hate us because we represent the mix tragic pass of stolen Africans and holocaust surviving indigenous people of the America's,) and people of color, (all thou connected to us by the same linage of slavery and suffrage play out their part to be the good nigga by performing every act of self hatred towards us by way of murder. It's time to wake up, eat meat and not milk, and be a people that our children can be proud of and that the devil can frown at. We do not, nor never did have the luxury to take the little power we have to lavish on ungrateful, racist, white women, or Spanish people, (Many who have more African features than us,) wthat happen to hate their own Black roots. We have to shake this slave mentality to make other people & their children comfortable, whilst our children are suffering. Times up and now the real work has to get done to complete God's favorable mercies, and overcoming, healings, to deliver us from ourselves. We have to stand not so that we can shoot a gun, but we must take a stand and hold it so that the presence of the Lord can go before us and fight our battle. We must focus and not look to the right or left. And in doing so I believe good ideas will come forth and happier days will bloom. Thank you Mrs. Edelman for holding up this banner of advocacy and provision for soooo many children across the world.

Submitted by DJ at: July 18, 2013
ALEC (American Legislative Exchange), which designed "Stand Your Ground" law and delivered the law for enactment in 30 states is made up of corporations such as Walmart, as the biggest seller of bullets in the United States. Although now a former member of ALEC, Walmart profits hugely from Stand Your Ground. ALEC, which also includes many corporations led by Koch brothers, also designed voter suppression laws, which are being enacted in states around the county. We people need to be informed about which corporations make up ALEC and organize to realize our full dollar power as well as well as voter power. Bring back "teach ins" to educate the people about the corporations that make up ALEC and their products so that we exercise our economic muscle and send a message to these corporations through the only thing that matters to them--- their profits!

Submitted by icecreamlady at: July 17, 2013
If 17 year old George was shot by 28 year old Travyon no one would have had to put pressure on the police to even delay charging him. The trial would have been held months ago and the decision would have been MURDER. O well, another Black man would sit in jail for the rest of his life for killing that young white lad who had all the potential in the world. But they cried - George was only protecting himself though he was the one following the teenager even when the police told him to STOP. Justice has not changed. It is still weighed by color. Sad but true

Submitted by JoyceD at: July 16, 2013
I was Emmett Till's age when he was killed. At 14 I had no idea what it was like to be Black in The South, and why he was killed. The murder of Medger Evers likewise stunned my husband and me, and we were absolutely stricken when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. We had just come back to the States after my husband's Army service in Germany and we wondered what kind of nightmare we had returned to. Racist hatred is all about power and also a lot of arrogance. We lived in Florida and Kentucky and it was an education in how the Civil War and its hatreds are still alive and well for so many people there. We do not have a country until all people are equal and respected as human beings.

Submitted by MomMom at: July 16, 2013
I appreciate the passionate concern expressed in the column on the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Nothing about this Florida homicide sit well with anyone who has paid attention to the details of this case. That said, continuing to beat the drum of racism as the cause of the shootings of black children and young men is not helpful. Your use of statistics is purposely misleading as it suggests that the shootings of black youth are primarily racially motivated crimes. I have studied more than 350 murders and homicides committed by males and there was not one in which the assailant called and asked an officer to be sent to the scene before the homicide took place. We can only assume that GZ did not pursue TM with the intention to kill him. It is unethical and immoral to fan the flames of racial mistrust and yes, paranoia. What happened that evening had more to do with the ways in which male strangers negotiate interactions where they believe that they are the "good guy" and the other is not. What is tragic is that this unnecessary loss of life occurred in a situation where 2 "good guys" each misread the intentions of the other. Were it not for the presence of a firearm, both would be here today. We need to learn from this so that this tragedy can be prevented in the future. Injecting race for the purpose of fundraising or political mobilization does not honor Trayvon Martin or his family. It certainly does nothing to lower the personal risk for any unarmed person. I am deeply disappointed that you have harmed the greater mission of CDF by succumbing to inflammatory posturing. The family of Trayvon Martin deserves better.

Submitted by Ginny at: July 16, 2013
It's good to know what others are thinking about this travesty. If I'd been on the jury, we might still be sitting there. Had Trayvon been white , Zimmerman would never have gotten out of his car, to say nothing of ignoring his supervisor's statement to the effect that he wasn't supposed to stalk this boy.

Submitted by Elena Garcia at: July 16, 2013
Trayvon Martin was not arrested and tried because his parents were not silent. It happened because he killed a person. But WE CANNOT BE SILENT. Why is a teen in his father's Neighborhood suspicious? Why is a man following a young male adult that is doing nothing but walking in his father's Neighborhood? Why is a "watcher" not following police orders to stay in his car? Why is a "watcher" taking justice in his hands without consequences? Why is this society is so backwards that a man is afraid of a teen that is doing nothing and pulls a gun instead of reaching out? Why do we allow Zimmerman's watch our Neighborhoods?

Submitted by Ewa at: July 16, 2013
Treyvon was profiled! He was black. Period. Zimmerman hated ALL BLACKS! He knew nothing about this boy besides that he was black. To him, as a zealous watchmen, all blacks were BAD! So, first he chased Trayvon, then killed him. IT WAS NOT SELF DEFENSE! IT WAS PREJUDICE AND HATE! Has anybody asked if the JURY WAS ALL WHITE WOMEN?

Submitted by C A at: July 16, 2013
I share your frustration and I support CDF and support the Haley Farm in my community so I hope you will understand even so I was disappointed in your approach and argument but again I do understand. I much prefer the response in Charles Blow's op-ed in today's NY Times. I think it makes clear the problem we have and how we must act and not yield to emotionally charged debate, instead a sober reflection and discussion on what we must do to solve the problem. Guns and violence should not be the norm or acceptable.We have to change the laws and our culture of violence in what we say is entertainment.

Submitted by elric at: July 15, 2013
Thank you for a generally reasoned and instructive article. For the most part, I found it quite agreeable. I must take issue, however, with your blanket characterization of "stand your ground" laws as destructive. The fact that it was poorly applied in Mr. Zimmerman's case is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The right to defend yourself and your kin against attack is one of the most basic human rights -- more fundamental than any civil right granted by a government. Stand your ground laws simply recognize the fact that running away is often not a reasonable option when faced with an attack. And they have nothing to do with the weapon you use to defend yourself, because they apply equally to firearms and fists. As a matter of fact, a friend of mine is alive and healthy and raising two beautiful kids because he stood his ground when he and his wife were attacked. And he's a free man because the local prosecutor applied the stand-your-ground principle even though there was no formal law there at the time. The twist is that my friend is black, his then-pregnant wife is white, and the guy he shot was one of six Aryan Nation thugs who were about to "punish them for the sin of race-mixing." Stand-your-ground doesn't sound like a senseless law to me or to my friend, or to the (white) prosecutor who jailed the thugs and sent my friend home to be with his wife. I must also take issue with the idea that the NRA, gun manufacturers, and other gun-rights groups have anything to do with perpetuating racial profiling, arbitrary arrests, or any of the other racial inequities you mention. There is absolutely no logical link between my owning a gun and racist cops in New York City. Making such a ridiculous link does a disservice to the rest of your article.

Submitted by Committed to Justice for Trayvon at: July 15, 2013
What would you perceive if a vehicle and a man twice your age were stalking and following you on a dark night? Every turn you made into the neighborhood, there was the dark vehicle following along filling you with fear and angst? George Zimmerman initiated the conflict, even if unknowingly. He is a grown adult and killed a defenseless teen that did not deserve to be stalked or killed that night. How would have Zimmerman reacted had he been the teen catching a car and man popping up out of the shadows on his way home? Seems Zimmerman was more likely hunting than being Watchman…. The threads of our American fabric are frayed and loosened, no longer is the fabric keeping tightly woven and unified, we are in obvious disrepair. George Zimmerman should have defused the situation, instead of spurring it on. An adult who was 28 years of age should have known better and he should have applied reason and logic to the situation that he himself was creating. WHY does a jury not apply justice when a grown adult knowingly intimidates a young man and causes his life to end? This is so terribly sad and wrong, if Zimmerman really cared about his community and not making a hero out of himself, Trayvon would be alive and well. Even if accidental Zimmerman is a grown adult who did wrong and the outcome of this case will negatively impact our sense of community and trust for the system and our neighbors everywhere in some way, in America. There is no justice, just a greater gap of angst, dissention, and fear toward one another and for the American system. You will not be forgotten, Trayvon, and the people of America will not sit quietly – I pray! It is time for action and Trayvon Martin is motivating the hearts of America, one concerned and caring community member at a time! The pain of injustice is scarred dark and deep I grieve Trayvon’s loss and I grieve the lack of justice carried out for you. This should have never happened and you should have never been on trial, now we must fight for you and for the safety of our communities and brotherhood.

Submitted by When will ti change at: July 15, 2013
Still cannot believe we are still dealing with these challenges in 2013. What can/will we do to make changes in our laws. How many more of our children (all our children) must die at the hands of irresponsible adults who our children's lives are left in the hands of. I am still asking the questons when will this change. I grieve for these parents who lost their son.

Submitted by Salproc at: July 15, 2013
I just heard that much about this young man was withheld from all of us and to include the jury. How can any of us make statements when some facts are missing? Please change our judicial system!!! This probably won't get posted! My other in defense of Trevon did not! Crazy crazy system. I still think Mr Zimmerman should have followed what he was told to do . Even if he suspected something given what has taken place!!!!!

Submitted by Maggie at: July 15, 2013
It is heartbreaking that this young man was murdered for no reason at all. I do not believe the jury looked at all the evidence, I do not believe they did due diligence in sorting through the mounds of evidence. This is a travesty of justice and we the people can never let Trayvon's memory or what happened to him fade from our own memories.

Submitted by Retired Teacher at: July 15, 2013
I must respectfully disagree with you on several points because of facts brought out in court that changed my mind. This case was ordinary self-defense against deadly assault, not Stand Your Ground, because George Zimmerman had no option of retreat after Trayvon Martin pinned him down. It turned out Trayvon Martin was the racist, calling GZ a "cracker" just before the attack, according to TM's girlfriend. No one testified to any racism by GZ. GZ saw a suspicious person, called the police, and walked toward the front to meet them. TM, who also had a phone, saw a suspicious person, did NOT call 911, but instead walked back to attack GZ. Just who was the vigilante?

Submitted by Cara at: July 15, 2013
Zimmerman was told to stand down and he didn't. Trayvon was not accosting anyone nor was he robbing anyone. Seems pretty simple to me!

Submitted by Anonymous at: July 15, 2013
Thank you for your consistent advocacy for children, youth and families. Gun violence and racism must be stopped.

Submitted by Anonymous at: July 15, 2013
If Zimmerman had had no gun Trayvon would still be alive.