The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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July 15, 2013

Florida verdict jeered

JOHNSTOWN — Two local black leaders say George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager shows how far this nation has to change before all citizens have equal rights.

Alan G. Cashaw, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Johnstown Unit, and Jeffrey Wilson, a youth leader and deacon at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, said they were disappointed in the jury’s decision.

“I don’t agree with them,” Cashaw said. “I would expect, at a minimum, he’d get assault.

“As much as the NAACP believes in the justice system, it’s a disappointment.”

Wilson presents black history programs throughout the region and teaches at his church. He has been hearing from students and former students who compared the Florida jury’s verdict to cases they learned about from the 1950s.

“They felt this was a modern-day Emmitt Till,” Wilson said, referring to the 1958 torture and murder of the 14-year-old black youth from Chicago while visiting relatives in Mississippi.

Two suspects, who later admitted killing Till, were found not guilty by an all-white, male jury.

Unlike Till’s alleged killers, Zimmerman said he was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, 17, in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26, 2012.

Jurors heard testimony that Martin had an altercation with Zimmerman and slammed the former neighborhood watch leader’s head on the pavement.

But they also heard Zimmerman was following the teen because, he said, he looked suspicious.

“The whole thing defies logic,” Wilson said, noting that young people are taught to avoid strangers and that Zimmerman did not have the right to detain anybody.

Florida’s Stand Your Ground law did not give the unarmed teen his right to stand his ground or defend himself, Wilson added.

Zimmerman’s actions before and after the shooting have Cashaw questioning the background checks that allowed him to legally carry a firearm.

“I don’t see him as a responsible gun owner,” Cashaw said.

The trial reflected some of the same issues that prevent rape victims from testifying, Cashaw said.

“They put Trayvon Martin on trial,” Cashaw said. “It became about his actions and what he did.

“It troubles me that a young black man can be shot and no one is held accountable.”

Wilson was not surprised to see that those participating in The Tribune-Democrat’s online poll agreed with the jury’s verdict by nearly a 3-1 margin.

“I am not surprised in this area,” he said. “They are living an illusion.”

Those who have not experienced racism present in the daily lives of black men can overlook the problem, Wilson explained.

“I am talking about everyday life folks,” he said. “(Such as) hearing all the doors lock on a car when you walk by it going into a grocery store; or finding someone following me in the store. It happens all the time.”

But concern over the case is not limited to blacks, Wilson said, noting that many whites have talked to him about the issues.

“It is not just African-Americans,” Wilson said. “It has always taken all people coming together to make any notable change.”

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