By FREDDIE ALLEN (NNPA Washington Correspondent)
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – It was a telephone call that Tracy Martin, father of the 17-year-old African-American killed in Sanford, Fla., by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, worried that he would never receive.
Forty-five days after an unarmed Trayvon Martin had been killed while walking back to a home he was visiting after purchasing a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey called to notify Trayvon’s parents that Zimmerman had finally been arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
“I was very emotional when I got the call from Ms. Corey,” Tracy Martin recounted. “I feel like Trayvon is looking down on us and saying, ‘Thank you, Dad.'”
Martin reflected on that telephone call when he was interviewed earlier by Al Sharpton. The civil rights leader played that videotape Saturday, the last day of his National Action Network convention in the nation’s capital.
When asked what she wants others to take away from the case, Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, replied, “I hope that they remember that he was an unarmed teen, he was a minor shot and killed by an adult, and that his parents fought to make sure justice was served,” Fulton said. “I hope that this doesn’t happen to any other child or adult. I hope that this brings people together.”
Although delegates at the convention connected with Trayvon’s parents Saturday by videotape – they appeared in person earlier in the convention – two other women who lost relatives to violence were present at the session on Howard University’s campus.
Nicole Paultre Bell’s fiancee was gunned down in 2006 by plainclothes police officers in New York City hours before they were supposed to take get married. The officers fired 50 times at Sean Bell and two friends who were injured. Three officers were charged with manslaughter but acquitted.
Also sharing the stage was Kadiatou Diallo, whose son, Amadou, was reaching for his wallet and ID when he was killed in a hail of bullets. Four plainclothes New York police officers fired 41 bullets at the unarmed Guinean immigrant..
The deaths of Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo received widespread publicity, largely because of the efforts of Al Sharpton. But there are dozens, if not hundreds, of Sean Bells and Amadou Diallos who remain unknown to the public.
On Saturday, many of their parents walked slowly to the microphone at the NAN convention to share their painful stories and grief.
“The only thing that give us strength is to know that people care and people continue to support our struggle,” said Diallo’s mother.
Melanie Campbell, the executive director and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation Inc., told convention delegates: “It’s very critical that we don’t miss the moment and make sure we turn this moment into a movement.”
Some legal experts were surprised that Corey filed murder rather than manslaughter charges against Zimmerman. Murder requires prosecutors to prove that Zimmerman intended to kill Martin. On the other hand, manslaughter is associated with accidental deaths.
A source close to the case told the NNPA News Service that under Florida law, jurors will be given instructions by the judge that will allow them to convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder or a lesser charge of manslaughter, which is punishable by 15 years plus another 15 years because Trayvon Martin was a minor. The murder charge carries a maximum life sentence.
“The jury can convict of a lesser charge, but had she charged Zimmerman with manslaughter, they would not have been able to increase the punishment,” the source said.
The Lawyers’ Committee of Civil Rights Under Law has been fighting for racial justice and equality for nearly 50 years since its 1963 founding at the request of President John F. Kennedy. It is critical that the nation’s criminal justice system is properly applied to all persons regardless of race, a statement from the committee said. “The lesson of the Trayvon Martin case for our society is that we must take every measure possible to prevent future tragedies such as occurred here.” The Lawyers’ Committee has long been deeply concerned about racial profiling and protection of the right of citizens of color to walk the streets peacefully without being accosted because of their race, particularly in predominately White communities.
“While it is of great magnitude, this arrest is only the first stage of a long journey to ensure that justice is provided for Trayvon Martin’s parents and family. We urge every American citizen to keep demanding that the full truth of the crime and its subsequent investigation are brought to light as the trial progresses. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Trayvon’s family as they mourn his tragic death,” the statement concluded.
Meanwhile Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler of Florida disclosed last week that her husband’s law partner previously had been contacted by Zimmerman seeking representation. Zimmerman’s lawyer, Mark O’Mara, on Monday, April 16, filed a motion asking Recksiedler to recuse herself. The Florida judge stepped down Wednesday, April 18.