Special to South Florida Times
WEST PALM BEACH — Attendees at a forum on the killing of Trayvon Martin heard a call to keep the civic activity in the community going strong while emotions are high.
The call came from Palm Beach County Urban League President and CEO Patrick Franklin during a forum hosted by the Urban League Young Professionals of Palm Beach County in West Palm Beach on Monday.
“We want to make sure that we understand that we need to go beyond Trayvon,” Franklin said. “We are putting down policies on how to engage our youth on how to deal with law enforcement.”
The purpose of the informational community meeting was to answer legal questions and give guidance on how to educate and protect youth.
The panelists also included former South Bay Mayor Clarence Anthony; state Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach; Mangonia Park Councilwoman Addie Greene; attorney Richard Ryles and Riviera Beach Police Chief Clarence Williams. Attorney Bradley Harper moderated the discussion.
Franklin said understanding gun laws and how they are implemented will be a big step in protecting children. “We need to understand the ‘stand your ground’ law and how these laws affect us. Ultimately, we need to understand that we need to register and vote to change these laws.”
Greene said Trayvon’s killing was “déjà vu to me” because she had seen it happen previously with Jerrod Miller, a 16-year-old African American of Delray Beach who was killed by a white rookie police officer seven years ago.
Protests and community outrage ensued as well as a civil lawsuit which was later settled with Miller’s parents.
“A lot of people are up in arms about Trayvon Martin,” Greene said. “Right now (the community is forgetting) Jerrod Miller. I’m here because the same thing happened to Jerrod Miller. Nothing happened between the death of those two youths. That’s what bothers me.”
Ryles said the community and the nation as a whole should examine how a measure such as the “stand your ground” law gets passed. “Why are we always in a reactionary mode as opposed to being in a proactive mode?” he said. “Are we holding our elected officials accountable?”
Greene agreed, saying, “The death of our children happens because of the laws that are passed. We can’t do anything about the death of children if we are not at the table helping to pass those laws. That’s the root of the problem.”
“We have to understand when you mention NRA to a lot of our people, especially African Americans, they have no idea what NRA stands for,” she said. “They never even heard of the ‘stand your ground’ law until the death of Jerrod Miller. Where were you when that law was passed?”
Discussion of the issues surrounding the case will continue when a panel examines the topic “Trayvon Martin, Stand Your Ground, Media and Race” from noon to 1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 21.
The public discussion, which is being presented by the South Florida Black Journalists Association, will take place at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center, 2650 Sistrunk Blvd., Fort Lauderdale.
Panelists will be Sarah Gonzalez, education reporter, StateImpact Flor-ida; Michael Mayo, Sun-Sentinel columnist; Tsitsi Wakhisi, associate professor of professional journalism practice, University of Miami, and a South Florida Times writer; and state Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that legal experts believe Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, who filed second-degree murder charges against Zimmerman on April 11, chose a tough route with that charge which could send Zimmerman to prison for life if he’s convicted, rather than manslaughter which usually carries 15-year prison terms and covers reckless or negligent killings.
Prosecutors must prove Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon was rooted in hatred or ill will and counter his claims that he shot the Miami Gardens teenager to protect himself while patrolling his gated community in the Orlando suburb of Sanford.
Zimmerman’s lawyer Mark O’Mara only would have to prove, at a pretrial hearing, by a preponderance of evidence — a relatively low legal standard — that his client acted in self-defense to prevent the case from going to trial.
There’s a “high likelihood it could be dismissed by the judge even before the jury gets to hear the case,” Florida defense attorney Richard Hornsby said.
Many attorneys said they had expected the prosecutor to opt for manslaughter. The most severe homicide charge, first-degree murder, is subject to the death penalty in Florida and requires premeditation — something all sides agreed was not present in this case.
O’Mara has said Zimmerman will plead not guilty and invoke the “stand your ground” law which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight.
Trayvon, who was staying with his father and his father’s fiancée in Sanford, was walking back home in the rain from a convenience store when Zimmerman spotted him and called police. Zimmerman followed the teenager despite being told not to by a police dispatcher and the two got into a struggle, Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman told police Trayvon punched him in the nose, knocking him down, and began banging his head on the sidewalk. He said he shot Trayvon in fear for his life. Police took Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, into custody the night of the shooting but released him without charging him.
The U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division is conducting its own civil rights investigation.
Meanwhile, O’Mara filed a motion asking Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler to disqualify herself from the case over a possible conflict of interest after she announced that her husband works with Mark NeJame, a CNN legal analyst. On Wednesday she recused herself, and Seminole Circuit Chief Judge Alan Dickey appointed Circuit Judge Kenneth M. Lester to the case.
Also, several media outlets, including the Herald, CNN and USA Today have petitioned the court to reverse an order sealing records in the case. That request came from O’Mara, who has said he is trying to prevent further leaks.
Material from the Associated Press and South Florida Times staff was used in compiling this report.
Photo: George Zimmeman