(Photo: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Wednesday was not a typical start for the National Action Network’s Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. The series of panels and plenary sessions that are customary fare for the civil rights organization’s annual gathering were infused with a new kind of energy. The national fervor surrounding the recent killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by gunman George Zimmerman has created an audible drumbeat heard by those in attendance.
Attorney General Eric Holder kicked off the conference by addressing delegates on a number of topics from voting rights to racial discrimination. But it was evident that the Trayvon Martin case was the elephant in the room, so Holder had no choice but to touch on the Justice Department’s involvement. “In all of our discussions, we are listening to concerns and have launched an independent review of our efforts,” Holder said. ”We will examine the facts and laws and if we find evidence of a crime, we will take action.”
Holder’s address was the opening salvo for a series of discussions surrounding the Trayvon Martin controversy. One of the highlighted sessions featured legal and civil rights experts and focused on the need to reform the criminal justice system. Panelist and mentor to the president, Charles Ogletree talked about the high incarceration rate, and how the case emphasizes the need for a national dialogue on race. Ogletree said, “This case serves as a reminder that no matter how much we talk about criminal justice, and racial profiling, there needs to be more action to save the other Trayvons of the 21st century. He also shared his skepticism about the controversial "Stand Your Ground" defense touted by Zimmerman. “I want to see how they respond when the next Black man claims 'Stand Your Ground,'” said Ogletree.
Noted defense attorney Billy Martin had a hopeful outlook about making the justice system more just. He spoke about his own encounter with racial profiling. He says he, like Trayvon, was 17-years-old when an armed group of white vigilantes wrongfully stopped him on the street and accused him of beating up a young white man. He remembered staring into the barrel of the gun before his accusers suddenly and inexplicably took off. “When I hear the story of Trayvon, I realize that I could have been Trayvon,” he shared. Martin believes that the justice system can and should work. “I know for a fact that there are some people who have justice in their hearts and know what equal justice means,” said Martin.
The NAN convention has been virtually consumed by the latest developments in the Trayvon Martin case. Martin’s parents joined NAN founder, Rev. Al Sharpton in Washington, to respond to the news attendees were waiting to hear: George Zimmerman is behind bars, charged with murder in the second degree.
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