By Eric and Stephanie Stradford
|Police presence, barricades, unused reserved parking, and
private closed parking lots might have motivated more marching for
thousands who peacefully pressed to Rally for Trayvon Martin.|
Digital image courtesy The American Mentor Wire Service.
The Christian Recorder, March 23, 2012, Sanford, FL – In just a few days, a family will mark one month since the senseless shooting and death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old African American. In just a few days more, a billion Christians around the world will mark another historically senseless murder and outcome upon which they base their faith.
Local pastors, calling for calm behind a pattern of state-sanctioned actions, believe that Lenten Season can help more of Sanford’s 54,000 residents minister inevitable change for 1,342,946,000 believers worldwide. But, what's the story behind the story?
Depending on the news one chooses to believe, 5,000 to 25,000 people gathered for Reverend Al Sharpton’s “Enough is Enough” rally. Behind the headlines, a last minute change in venue, prompted by routine security intelligence, moved television lights, cameras and crews from the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church to Sanford’s waterfront Fort Mellon Park.
Last night, change came to Sanford. “In the interest of the public safety,” Norman R. Wolfinger, state attorney for Seminole County, removed himself from the case. Wolfinger’s retreat was the second sign of change. Earlier, Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. tapped press assets to announce his “temporary resignation” as head of the Sanford police. Lee came into office less than a year ago on the heels of another scandal that forced out his predecessor. Having lost faith and trust with Americans here, there is probably little hope that he will ever serve Sanford again.
But, for believers, ALL THINGS are possible. Good News of a resurrected Savior inspires and compels believers to increase their interest in kingdom assets. The same Good News mapped assets for independence in Christ’s prophetic assessment, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Historically, and in some cases statutorily, America has assessed the value of a young African American as less than that of a whole citizen. Some describe the all too routine profiling of African Americans and rules of engagement, such as Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, as a threat to national security. "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," said President Barack Obama. "All of us have to do some soul searching."
Many in the crowd gathered here wore t-shirts bearing the phrase, “I Am Trayvon,” demonstrating solidarity with the cause. "I feel that we need an arrest," said Sybrina Fulton to supporters at the rally. Fulton is the mother of Trayvon Martin. "The temporary step-down of Bill Lee is nothing," Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father told the rally. "We want an arrest, we want a conviction, and we want a sentence for the murder of our son."
For the record, Trayvon Martin is one in a lineage of young African Americans profiled and sentenced to death before they could graduate from high school, vote, serve their country in the military, or go to college. For Trayvon’s family, the tremendous loss can only be felt by someone who has lost a loved-one to a violent crime. Unfortunately for them and their compassioned community, there has not been much time to grieve.
For Martin’s family, the nightmare began on February 26 when he reportedly walked to a nearby store for some Skittles and an ice tea. As of today, no one has been arrested for the crime. According to George Zimmerman, he shot Martin in self-defense during his neighborhood watch duty.
A capacity crowd gathered earlier this week at Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church for a town hall style meeting. According to Reverend Valarie J. Houston, pastor, “several ministers have come together with civil rights leaders and community activists to plan a series of peaceful events advocating justice for Trayvon.”
Last night, Sharpton called for a “Rally for Justice.” Local, county and state law enforcement responded by deploying multiple helicopters in the air and troops on the ground. During the rally, demonstrators learned that Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee would "temporarily" step down as head of the department, which has been criticized for its handling of the fatal shooting.
"We did not come here for a temporary leave of absence," said Sharpton. "We came for permanent justice -- arrest Zimmerman now!" The national president of the NAACP, Benjamin Jealous, said, "The reality is that this chief had probable cause to lock up a man who shot a boy in cold blood and he failed to do his job." Martin Luther King III, while speaking at the rally, urged the crowd to pray for Sharpton and his family, in the loss of their mother, Ada Sharpton, who passed earlier in the day.
In his statement earlier in the day, Bill Lee told reporters, "I am aware that my role as a leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation. It is apparent that my involvement in this matter is overshadowing the process. Therefore, I have come to the decision that I must temporarily remove myself from the position." He added, "I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to the city, which has been in turmoil for several weeks." Lee's decision came a day after the city commission voted 3-2 in favor of a nonbinding measure of no confidence.
Tonight, Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, Sanford, will once again open its doors for a “One Hour Prayer Vigil.”
Reverend Dr. Jamal Bryant, pastor, Empowerment Temple A.M.E. Church, Baltimore, MD, with Stephen Green, a former resident of Florida and student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA are coordinating national leaders for a Monday, March 26 “March and Rally for Justice.” Bryant and Green are sons of Bishops in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The march will begin at the First United Methodist Church and end at Sanford City Hall. The week will culminate with a “March Rally and Protest” coordinated by the NAACP on Saturday, March 31. Many other efforts are being planned, including a visit to Washington, DC on April 10—the day the grand jury is scheduled to meet.
In another case, according to the Justice Department this week, three white Mississippi men pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes in connection with the 2011 death of James Craig Anderson, an African-American man in Jackson, MS.
Deryl Dedmon, John Aaron Rice and Dylan Butler each admitted to conspiracy and violating the 2009 federal hate-crimes law in last June's killing of Anderson. The 19-year-old Dedmon pleaded guilty to state murder and hate-crime charges and was sentenced to life in prison. Rice, 19, and Butler, 20, made their initial appearances in federal court Thursday morning. They face sentences of up to life in prison and $250,000 in fines.
The men are among the first defendants to be prosecuted under the federal hate-crime statute that President Barack Obama signed in 2009 and the first to be prosecuted in a fatal attack. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez commented, "The Department of Justice will vigorously pursue those who commit racially motivated assaults and will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that those who commit such acts are brought to justice."