SANFORD, Fla. – While the jury in the George Zimmerman trial was listening to closing arguments on Friday, NAACP national president Ben Jealous and Florida president Adora Obi Nweze were meeting with Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett and Police Chief Cecil Smith.
Nweze said they went to Sanford intentionally with little fanfare and no media notification because “we needed to know what they were planning post-trial.”
Jealous confirmed during a press conference on Friday afternoon – the first day of the NAACP’s national convention at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando – that he and Nweze did attend a meeting with the city officials.
Jealous called Smith, Sanford’s police chief for about three months, a “breath of fresh air.’’ Smith replaced Bill Lee, who was fired for his handling of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by Zimmerman.
It had been a little over a year that he and Nweze had met with Triplett. At that time, more than 30,000 had descended on the city for a rally calling for Zimmerman’s arrest in the shooting death of the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Jealous said there was a lot of tension in the
town at the time, but healing has begun and “will continue regardless of the outcome of the trial.”
Nweze, the Florida NAACP president, said she has confidence that the Department of Justice will be investigating whether Martin’s civil rights were violated and said now they will continue working to educate the public about the justice system and how it works.
Jealous echoed her comments on justice for Martin if his civil rights were violated, adding that regardless they will be supporting Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton.
He also said that because of the parents, the country has been forced to talk openly about Martin’s right to be able to walk in public and not be suspected or charged with doing something criminal.
“So many good things have happened because Trayvon Martin’s parents stood up,” Jealous continued, adding that now the country must “focus on healing and coming together to become the one nation we want to be.”
Jealous said his thoughts also are with Zimmerman’s family.
“There were multiple tragedies, but the Martin family deserves justice,” he said.
He also declared, “We will keep fighting to win day when civil rights, human rights and voting rights are secure.’’
During the press conference in Orlando, he said there are tough times ahead in Florida and the country as far as voting rights for all considering the U.S. Supreme Court action last month gutting Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which directly affected the state.
“The Supreme Court voted to deny protection of voting rights to people in five counties in Florida,” he said. The organization has vowed to pressure Congress to rewrite the law to guarantee all will have equal voting rights.
Jealous also had tough words for Florida Gov. Rick Scott, chastising him for reversing a decision by his predecessor Charlie Christ to give convicted felons their rights back after completing their sentences. He also criticized the governor for supporting a measure making voting and registering to vote more difficult.
The convention continued in Orlando through Wednesday. This marks the first time the national convention has been in Orlando and the third time in Florida. Previous national NAACP conventions were in Miami.