Conflict & Justice

South Florida regroups after Zimmerman acquittal

MIAMI, Florida — On Monday morning, the road leading up to the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Miami Gardens— the church where Trayvon Martin's mother worshipped, in the neighborhood where she lived with sons Trayvon and Jahvaris — is still.

It is the same 213th Street church where yesterday Pastor Arthur Jackson III told reporters that the people of the community are “armed with the power of the Lord.” It now sits quietly — its doors closed. A marquee on the front lawn announces a “Night of Laughter” on Friday. 

Across the street is another church marquee — this one belonging to Saint Stephen Church. It reads: “There is no right way to do the wrong thing.”

Whether or not it is intended as a comment on Martin’s death or Saturday’s verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial, it is a thought-provoking message for a grieving community.

The peaceful demonstrations that followed Zimmerman’s acquittal have come to rest for now in Miami, and the NAACP, the country’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, has now called on the Department of Justice to open a civil rights case against Zimmerman.

The group posted an online petition, which has already acquired over 100,000 signatures, addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder, stating that “the most fundamental of civil rights — the right to life — was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin. We ask that the Department of Justice file civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman for this egregious violation.”

Whitney Maxey, organizer for the Miami Workers Center — an organization that participated in demonstrations and aims to create a progressive political and social environment for South Florida’s low-income communities of color —said that she doesn’t think the member-led group will support the petition.

The group, she said, is more concerned with how to engage the community.

“Coming out of Sunday, the conversation is now shifted to the larger issue of race in general in our community,” she said. “There are several different approaches because Miami is so divided politically.”

The goal, she continued, is to create sustainable movement and consciousness in the public.

“People are now asking questions,” Maxey said. “Questions about why you don’t hear about black on black crime, or about women who are being domestically abused, but when it is interracial, you hear all about it.”

This curiosity is now enabling rights organizations to engage a healing public on the “deeper issues of how communities are being treated, whose lives are expendable, and whose aren’t.” These are issues, Maxey said, that will be addressed through organized events that will orchestrate arenas for this kind of discussion.

A day after the candlelight vigil at Downtown Miami’s Torch of Friendship and a march to the steps of the Freedom tower beneath the rain, there are no signs of any of it having taken place. At Dr. Michael M. Krop High School, Trayvon Martin’s school and another site of community mourning on Sunday, there remains nothing but a couple of students trickling in for summer classes.

Some are worried that this desire for social action and community engagement will dissolve in the coming days — that it will become nothing more than a fad created by a sensational event in what rights groups call a “criminalized community,” which tend to be black and Latino.

But therein lie both the challenge and the reward, according to Maxey. Sometimes while the city begins to wind down, the dialogue sustains.

“It’s a test,” she said. “The struggle is how you combine organization with movement and moments. You uplift stories that fit into larger frameworks. The idea is not to keep everybody, but to identify key relationships in the moment that allow you to build on the momentum and accomplish more than you could have if the moment hadn’t happened.”