The Reverend Jesse Jackson called for a voter-registration drive to elect officials who would repeal a Florida law that prevented police from arresting a crime-watch volunteer suspected in the fatal shooting of a black teenager.
“There’s something toxic in the structure” of a system where the shooter “was allowed to walk free,” Jackson said today at a church in Eatonville, about 14 miles (23 kilometers) from Sanford, the central Florida town where Trayvon Martin, 17, was killed Feb. 26.
George Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense. Without contradictory evidence, police are prohibited by Florida’s “stand your ground” statute from making an arrest, Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. said in a report on the city’s website.
Jackson called for an end to the law, saying 700,000 eligible unregistered black voters could be enlisted to elect candidates who would support its repeal.
“Zimmerman is the mailman; ‘Stand your ground’ is the ground system -- it’s the post office,” said Jackson, calling Martin a martyr. “We must end the institution of ‘stand your ground.”’
He called for an effort akin to a military operation.
“If it’s a moment, we go home,” he said. “If it’s a movement, we go to war.” He urged supporters to “remain nonviolent.”
Clarice Hopkins, executive assistant to the pastor at the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, said she was informed of Jackson’s appearance earlier in the week and that staff told the congregation by word of mouth.
The two-level church auditorium, which seats 1,150, was “a little” more crowded today than usual, she said.
The Florida “stand your ground” law gives someone who feels threatened greater latitude to use deadly force outside a home. Jackson said the measure provides “an incentive for vigilantes to kill people.” Martin “didn’t get killed because he was wearing a hoodie, he got killed because he was black,” he said.
Jackson appeared on “Youth Sunday,” where children dressed in white with blue collars opened the church service amid gospel music. When he asked attendees if any had relatives in jail, most stood in acknowledgement.
Members said they would hold a protest march tomorrow. People who aren’t registered voters were called to the pulpit; about a dozen came forward. Jackson asked all others to swear they are registered. Those who aren’t will be registered today, he said.
U.S. Representative Corrine Brown, a Democrat whose district includes Sanford, said after Jackson spoke that a Congressional hearing would be held in Washington March 27.
“He still has that gun, and he has the right to carry that gun,” she said, referring a firearm Zimmerman carried under legal permit at the time of the shooting.
The Justice Department has opened a civil rights probe into the slaying after 14 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee wrote Attorney General Eric Holder.
Florida Governor Rick Scott, a first-term Republican, assembled a task force led by Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll, the state’s highest-ranking black official.
“You want to make sure everybody feels comfortable with public safety in our state,” Scott said on CNN today when asked about “stand your ground.” “I’m going to have different elected officials appoint individuals, but we’ll look at all of it.”
Martin was walking through a residential neighborhood after buying iced tea and candy at a convenience store when the shooting occurred, Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Martin family, said at a March 20 news conference.
Zimmerman was identified as a white male in a Feb. 27 Sanford Police Department report posted on the city’s website. His father, Robert Zimmerman, described him as “a Spanish-speaking minority” in a March 15 letter to the Orlando Sentinel.