ORLANDO, Fla. - Ben Jealous, President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he quickly found himself refocusing his annual national convention in Orlando more on the George Zimmerman not guilty verdict.
Jealous said it's ironic that his group's annual convention happened to be going on at the same time and place as Zimmerman's verdict was handed down.
"Certainly felt just a little providential. That when this came down, the NAACP would have all its leaders from across the country down here. I don't want to make too much of that, but it's one of those moments that makes you feel very small," Jealous said, adding that the NAACP has, "a responsibility while we're here to talk about what's going on here, and send people back ready to talk about how we ensure that there are no more 'Trayvons.'"
An NAACP spokesman said there were tears and anger over the verdict, especially from young black men attending the convention. The spokesman said the organization invited counselors from all over Central Florida to help youth attending the convention away from their families deal with their emotions. Monday evening the NAACP held a town hall-style meeting for youth to discuss taking peaceful action.
"We're asking youth across the country to keep on doing what they're doing," said Jealous. "That's if they're upset and angry, fuel it in a powerful and peaceful way. Sign the petition on line and get involved in a protest in your community and we're proud of it."
Jealous said the verdict had a powerful impact on the focus of the convention but on him personally.
"When I heard that verdict the first thing I did is walked over to my son's crib and I listened to him breathe. And I began to cry. Because I realized Tracy and Sybrina would never hear Trayvon breathe again," Jealous said.
Jealous said he will be meeting with the Department of Justice officials this week to discuss the possibility of civil rights charges against Zimmerman.
"There will most likely be a civil phase," Jealous said. "But even after that the US. DOJ will have an opportunity say whether it intends to file charges or bring civil action or even bring a pattern and practice investigation to Sanford Police Department."
The Department of Justice said Sunday it would review the Martin-Zimmerman case to determine if it should consider prosecuting Zimmerman, who was acquitted Friday.
"Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the Department's policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial," the DOJ said.
NAACP Chairman Roslyn Brock spoke to Local 6 Sunday afternoon and was candid in her reaction to the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman.
"We can't get to how you walk home in the rain from a local convenience store to being dead on the ground," she said. "Our community was prepared for a manslaughter conviction, we would accept that, but to have Mr. Zimmerman exonerated of all charges?"
As more than 4,000 members gathered at the annual NAACP Convention in Orlando, many of the scheduled meetings have turned into lengthy discussions about the Zimmerman verdict. The NAACP had been calling on the Department of Justice to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman which they say were violated the night he took Martin's life.
"We're hopeful Mr. Zimmerman is brought to justice, that in American society it means something to take the life of an unarmed 17-year-old male in this community."
But Mark O' Mara, the attorney for George Zimmerman, said the trial was not about race, it was about self-defense.
"Obviously, we are ecstatic with the results. George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defense," O'Mara said.
The NAACP has already received 225,000 signatures, just hours after the verdict. The petition now stands at almost 400,000 signatures.
Roslyn Brock said the petition is just the beginning.
"We're standing resolute in our theme that we will not be moved, we have to do something to make justice in America equal."
The attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin, the teen who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, spoke at the NAACP National Convention on Monday in Orlando.
"After the verdict was rendered, the question has been answered loud and clear," said Benjamin Crump.
Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder on Saturday by a six-person jury after a nearly month-long trial.
Crump spoke about Martin's mother's reaction to the verdict in Zimmerman's trial.
"After the verdict, it was devastating. Their heart broke again. She cried and prayed and cried again," Crump said.
Crump urged the crowds to stay vocal and vigilant during the Department of Justice investigation into a possible civil rights violation, such as a hate crime.
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