The mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin sharply criticized Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law in a speech on Friday, nearly two weeks after the man who shot her unarmed son was acquitted of murder charges.
“Wrap your mind around no prom for Trayvon,” Sybrina Fulton said in the 10-minute address to the annual conference of the National Urban League, a civil rights group.
“No high school graduation for Trayvon, no college for Trayvon, no grandkids coming from Trayvon, all because of a law that has prevented the person who shot and killed my son to be held accountable, and to pay for this awful crime. Trayvon was my son, but he is also your son,” she said.
On July 13, a jury in Seminole County, Florida, returned verdicts finding George Zimmerman, 29, not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the February 2012 death of Martin.
Critics contend that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who is white and Hispanic, racially profiled Martin when he followed the black teenager in a gated community in Sanford, Florida.
After years of pressure from civil rights groups and lawmakers who say attacks against religious and ethnic minorities are not adequately monitored by law enforcement, the FBI will begin formally tracking hate crimes against Sikhs, Hindus and Arabs.
Meeting in Portsmouth, Va., on Wednesday, an FBI advisory board voted to expand standard hate-crime incident reports used by thousands of police departments across the country to include crimes motivated by bias against the two religious groups, as well as Arabs.
The changes, which go into effect by 2015, are being praised by Sikh, Hindu and Arab advocates hoping to avoid underreporting of hate crimes and increase awareness among law enforcement of their religions and cultures. In particular, members of the Sikh religion, in which men typically grow beards and wear turbans, have said crimes against them are often misreported as anti-Muslim.
“We can’t go to policy makers or law enforcement to make the case about crimes against our communities unless we have the official data,” said Rajdeep Singh, director of law and policy for the Sikh Coalition, a civil rights group that has pushed law enforcement for two years to take action. Specific hate-crime statistics, Singh hopes, will help law enforcement prevent crimes against Sikhs, Hindus and Arabs.
Authorities have not released the name of the suspected gunman. But neighbors and news outlets around Midland City identified him as 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, a Vietnam veteran and a retired truck driver.
Neighbor Jimmy Davis told CNN that Dykes began digging a hole on his property soon after he moved in down the road from him.
Davis, who works a night shift, said Dykes worked on his bunker in the middle of the night — every other night, between 2 and 3 a.m., for a year and a half.
He was friendly and welcoming and told Davis the hole would be a storm shelter.
But Tim Byrd, chief investigator with the Dale County Sheriff’s Office, told the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch that Dykes had “anti-America” views.
“His friends and his neighbors stated that he did not trust the government, that he was a Vietnam vet, and that he had PTSD,” Byrd told the civil rights group. “He was standoffish, didn’t socialize or have any contact with anybody. He was a survivalist type.”
ice President Joe Biden drew cheers from the nation’s biggest civil rights group on Thursday with a fiery defense of President Barack Obama’s record, and he warned that the election of Republican Mitt Romney could reverse years of economic and civil rights gains for blacks.
The day after Romney was booed during an appearance before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People convention, Biden said Republicans had blocked Obama’s efforts at every turn and their policies would halt progress for blacks in housing, education and a variety of economic issues.
“Their discipline has been amazing. They have never let up. But neither has my guy, Barack Obama,” Biden said. “This election, in my view, is a fight for the heart and soul of America. These guys aren’t bad guys, but they have a fundamentally different view.”
It was a rousing speech to a friendly crowd by Biden, who has proved to be a passionate campaigner for Obama, drawing on his folksy charm and connection with working-class America.
Biden asked the audience to imagine what a Romney presidency would mean for the Justice Department, the Supreme Court and voting rights.
“This is not your father’s Republican Party,” said Biden, the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “They see a future where voting is made harder, not easier.”
He condemned Republican support for voter ID laws that critics say will disenfranchise many black voters.
“Did you think we’d be fighting these battles again?” he asked the crowd, which roared “No!” in reply.