All of last week, I was in Sanford, pursuing justice for Trayvon Martin. I listened to community concerns about the Sanford police department and rallied with Trayvon's parents and 30,000 others in the small town with only 50,000 residents.
As a son, father, brother and uncle, the loss of another young black man in an avoidable, violent confrontation hit close to home. I recalled my teen and early adult years, when making it to adulthood was considered an accomplishment among my peers. I understand the fear that lies in the hearts of millions of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles – the fear that this could happen to their loved one.
Despite the awful truth of Feb. 26 [when Trayvon was shot and killed], Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton have been pillars of courage. Like Mamie Till after the brutal murder of her son Emmett, Tracy and Sybrina have stood and shown the world what hate and violence have done to their child and the nation and the world have responded. Their leadership has resulted in a global movement for justice for Trayvon and, most recently, in the appointment of a special prosecutor to review their son's case.
The Seminole County branch of the NAACP has played a critical role in igniting this movement for justice in Sanford. Last Thursday, in light of pressure from Seminole County NAACP President Turner Clayton and the branch to step aside, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee temporarily resigned from his post. Along with the ongoing Department of Justice investigation, it is heartening to see that the wheels of justice are in motion.
It is clear that the Sanford police badly mishandled the investigation into Trayvon's death. The routine mishandling of similar cases by police, prosecutors and judges has eroded the Sanford community's trust and fueled the perception that justice for our young men and boys is of little consequence to law officials. It is vitally important that the state attorney assigned to this case handles it with passion and an eye for justice.
Trayvon's family, the Sanford community and the world lost a precious gift in Trayvon. Unfortunately, he is not the only young person we've lost to senseless violence. Trayvon’s killing and the city’s failure to bring his killer to justice exemplify patterns of racial profiling and the devaluation of black men by law enforcement. Across the country, our precious sons and daughters are being sacrificed all too frequently, with justice arriving far too infrequently, if ever.
We won't let it continue to happen. We will keep speaking out and we will keep raising our voices for Trayvon and for all of our precious children. In Sanford, I saw a strong community willing to band together in the face of tragedy and raise its collective voice for justice.
We need a continued national commitment to ensure that we fix the Sanford police department and we need to keep the movement rolling to demand justice for Trayvon.
Benjamin Todd Jealous is president/CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.