SE Queens mulls over Zimmerman verdict

State Sen. James Sanders (l.) and his panel of legal experts and community leaders discuss the Trayvon Martin case. Photo by Rich Bockmann
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In southeast Queens, where the issues of racism and gun violence — and the point where the two often meet — are everyday realities, the acquittal of George Zimmerman Saturday night in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has sparked impassioned conversations about prejudice in America.

“You don’t even have to be white anymore. You can just look white and you can get away murdering a black child,” Winston Hurley said at a forum about the trial in South Jamaica Tuesday night.

Since the Florida jury’s controversial decision Saturday, community members have been overwhelmed with frustration that the letter of the law appeared to be followed, and that in places as different as Florida and New York City, the deck seems to be stacked against minorities.

State Sen. James Sanders, Jr. (D-Jamaica) set up the forum in the days following the verdict and convened a panel of legal experts and community leaders to perform what he called an autopsy to find out how “we got a dead, stinking result from a trial like that.” He said the meeting was a chance for the more than 100 attendees to come to terms with the jury’s decision, vent and then work toward strategies to deal with what everyone agreed was a great injustice.

Leonard Baynes, a law professor at St. John’s University and director of the school’s Center for Human Rights and Economic Development, discussed the way the jury was instructed not to consider Martin’s and Zimmerman’s races, and said Florida’s “stand your ground” law placed the burden on the state to disprove Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense.

Those at the meeting discussed ways to combat racism, such as working to change negative portrayals of minorities in the media and putting pressure on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate federal hate crime charges against Zimmerman.

Norman Siegel, former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the Justice Department may have just as much difficulty arguing hate crime charges as the Florida prosecutors had with their case.

“I don’t want people to be given false expectations. We see so many politicians and people signing petitions calling on the Department of Justice. [The DOJ] didn’t help us with Sean Bell,” he said. “I’m not saying don’t answer the call, and I’m not saying don’t sign the petition, but don’t put your eggs in that basket.”

Siegel said he thought the best course of action would be for the Martin family to file a civil suit against Zimmerman in which he would be required to testify.

Attendees at the forum discussed what they could to do to prevent something like Martin’s killing from ever happening again, such as working to combat racial stereotypes.

The Rev. Phil Craig, head of the Queens chapter of the National Action Network, is helping organize a protest outside the Federal Court House at 500 Pearl St. in Manhattan Saturday at noon.

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) stood with members of the city’s congressional delegation outside the building Monday and called on the Justice Department to investigate Martin’s killing.

“Our justice system and political system include processes and procedures by which citizens can continue to pursue justice for Trayvon Martin, including – as my colleagues and I are doing today – calling on the Justice Department, first, to review this case for civil rights violations; and second, to monitor ‘stand-your-ground’ laws to ascertain whether they are having a racially disparate impact,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 2:44 am, July 19, 2013
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Reader feedback

Brett from Anchorage says:
The black community has simply chosen the wrong case to use to support their goals. The evidence in this case was so clear that anyone, black or white, who says that this case has anything to do with race is ignorant.

If indeed there are laws that seem to favor one race over the other, then pursue changes to those laws. However, you need the EVIDENCE to do such a thing. Bringing pure emotion and generalizations to the debate table won't do a thing.

Also, this case didn't argue Stand Your Ground, it argued simple self defense. It is unfortunate that the black community fails to reason with the evidence at trial. Instead, they latch onto the fact that Zimmerman got out of his vehicle. This is the weakest argument I have been hearing. Even if he "should" have stayed in his car, Trayvon "should" have gone home OR used his cell to call 911 if he felt he was in danger.

Instead, he assaulted someone and was shot. Did anyone ever ask themselves WHY Trayvon did that? You can't argue it is because he was fearful because he had plenty of time (based on evidence) to go HOME! If he was in fear, he would have gone home. Instead, he fought someone.

The hard questions won't be answered by the black community that supports Trayvon because they don't want to face the fact that one of their own acted like a fool.

And shame on all these race-baiters exploiting Traycon's image to further their agenda. Pathetic.
July 18, 2013, 1:34 am
Be real from US says:
I'm a minority myself. I don't use "Race" as my pretext to paint over my actions, period. The verdict had spoken the US Justice System and, it's done and over.
July 18, 2013, 1:35 am
jay. says:
So in Wisconsin a 76 year old white guy shoots a 13 year old black teen.
He was found guilty. The kid didn't attack anyone. That is a good court outcome. The court got it right. And guess what? No one cares.

Travon beat George's head into the pavement. If Travon had beaten George to death, it SOUNDS like everyone here would be perfectly happy. How DARE anyone defend themselves against a black person?

Racial element? One one racial slur was provent to be said that night, and it was Travon that said it. The news outlets repeadly got caught doctoring audio and pictures to make it sound like George was some white supremacist.

Look, point me to a case where a white teen is beating a black man to death and the black man shoots and kills the white teen, and I'll be HAPPY to say that is a justifiable shooting. If Trayvon had punched George a few times and backed away, then I would have said Travon was in the right.

The court got it right. Stop being mad JUST because he is black. If he was white you wouldn't care. Look at the facts, ignore the color, and think what you would do if YOU thought you were being beaten to death.
July 18, 2013, 1:35 am
tired from queens says:
A drug dealer who was suspected of both assault and burglary got killed in a confrontation with a home owner. Unfortunate but predictable. Trayvon was a charter member of the future inmates of America, going down the wrong path. The newspapers tried to incite a race riot by showing a 5 year old photo of him as a 12 year old boy instead of a recent photo of him as a 6'2" 17 year old. He was not an innocent vicitm of anything but a poor upbringing.
July 18, 2013, 9:22 am
none of your biz from USA says:
Its unreal that the SE Queens politicians can come together and discuss about a case that happened outside of NY but yet they cant come together and discuss the issues affecting the SE Queens area nor do they do anything to curb violence, clean up the filthy streets and better the schools in the communuty. Yet they go into office and steal like Huntley and Smith. Disgraceful!. They do not belong in politics, period!
July 19, 2013, 11:40 pm
none of your beezwack from queens says:
Of course the race blame is the only defense because they dont want to deal with the reality of the situation. The reality is, that, Trayvon was a thug. How dare us make him out to be in the wrong. Like many black kids in the projects of South Jamaica, they should get what they deserve when they use the black race to intimidate and committ crimes against, non black people. If you come my way in that way, you will get what you deserve. Punk asses! Thats why jails are full of black people, so dont play the race game now!!
July 20, 2013, 3:21 am
grr from USA says:
South east Queens, should burn to the ground. Especially, the projects which is filled with hateful, racist people who committ crimes against, non black people. I despise you!!
July 23, 2013, 9:35 pm
disappointed from Hollis, NY says:
All this ignorance.....
what a shame....
July 24, 2013, 12:15 am
wow from USA says:
Its ashame how politicians, use the race game to encourage a revolution in our country. Especially in SE Queens!! Thats ignorant and shameful!!
July 27, 2013, 4:44 am
wow from USA says:
How can politicians come together and make a great deal of issues surrounding the Martin Trayvon case, yet, they cant come together to resolve the issues here in SE QUEENS? Black on black crime, happens almost everyday in SE Queens, why arent you making an issue over that? Why arent you making an issue over gangs, like the bloods in the South Jamaica Projects, who sell drugs, beat and rob people and they kill their own race. What about that? You ignorant, lowlife politicians!!
July 27, 2013, 4:51 am
grr from queens says:
Cant use the race game when you have black politicians like Huntley, Smith, Holmes and Wills committing crimes. See why white people hate you? Your own black leaders cant even get it together. Shame on all of you! Than you wonder why you are profilied. It begins from the top. Dont EVER use race to cover your crooked and illegal deeds. Fools!! Bumbs and criminals in suits. Lol!!!!!!!!! Your a joke.
July 28, 2013, 11:07 pm
awake from nyc says:
trayvon sorry for these humans comments, they are the seeded vipers they cant help themselves descedants of cain, but there are caucasian people who feel the hurt they know compassion and those are the ones who are loved. to you hateful white people i rather hug you than hate you. the caucasian race is not producing rapidly and is shrinking and your descedants will be loved by every color because they will not be like you, dont stutter when jesus ask you to explain your hate after the breath of life from god leaves you , and you return to dust. and to the athiest there would be no dust nor the existence of the term dirt ring if adam werent creatd by god from it
Aug. 1, 2013, 3:20 pm

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